Knicks' knack for defense key Can Starks and Co. keep lid on Jordan?

May 25, 1993|By Jerry Bembry | Jerry Bembry,Staff Writer

NEW YORK -- For New York Knicks guard John Starks, the question was almost laughable: How do you stop Michael Jordan?

"A lot of people say they can stop Jordan," Starks said. "But you can't stop Michael Jordan -- all you can do is go out and play him as hard as you can."

Starks -- with a lot of help -- played Jordan hard on Sunday, limiting him to 27 points on 10-of-27 shooting in New York's 98-90 win over the Chicago Bulls in the opening round of the NBA Eastern Conference finals.

Tonight's Game 2 at Madison Square Garden will determine whether the Knicks really do have a solid game plan to stop Jordan, or whether his subpar effort was just a prelude to an offensive explosion the Bulls will need from their star in their quest to three-peat.

Jordan heaped praise on Starks, who scored 25 Sunday, after suffering through a 3-for-13, 10-point second half. Known to dominate in the fourth quarter, Jordan was a non-factor, as he made just two of nine shots and looked out of sync.

"[Starks] bodied me, and a couple of shots I forced," Jordan said. "I was out of rhythm. You have to credit his defense."

The un-Jordan-like effort led to these headlines in the New York papers yesterday: "Missing Michael," "Still waiting for the real Mr. Jordan to show up" and "His Airness springs a leak."

"This puts us in a different light than we have been in," Jordan said of the loss, Chicago's first in the playoffs after sweeping its first seven games. "If you want to say that this brings us back to reality, yes."

Regardless of whether Jordan erupts, the Bulls probably won't have much of a chance of winning the series if the team can't put forth a better effort rebounding. New York had a 48-28 advantage on the boards, with Patrick Ewing and Charles Oakley grabbing 17 and 14 rebounds, respectively.

"Oakley and Ewing are great anticipators of shots and rebounds," Jordan said. "They kept the ball alive and had a great effort. We have to match that effort."

If Jordan regains some of his form tonight, the Knicks -- seeking to hold their home-court advantage -- then must reduce the mistakes that led to 23 turnovers, eight more than the Bulls.

"If we continue to rebound, that will help overcome deficiencies in other areas," New York coach Pat Riley said. "But we had a sloppy game from a ball-handling standpoint."

But rebounding and defense remain the key for New York.

"We keep challenging players to take shots over a contesting hand," Riley said.

After the game, Riley was asked whether the Knicks were fortunate to catch the Bulls in a game when Jordan proved to be a mere mortal.

"You should never feel fortunate in a playoff game," Riley said. "Whether we dodged a bullet or not is irrelevant. We won."

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