Knicks' Garden party blocked by Bulls, 97-94

June 03, 1993|By Alan Goldstein | Alan Goldstein,Staff Writer

NEW YORK -- The Chicago Bulls made good on forward Horace Grant's guaranteed victory before the pivotal fifth game of the NBA Eastern Conference finals. But it took an incredible defensive stand in the closing seconds for the defending champions to walk off the Madison Square Garden court as 97-94 winners, putting them within a victory of reaching a third straight championship round.

Scottie Pippen, Horace Grant and Michael Jordan took turns rejecting four straight close-in shots by Knicks forward Charles Smith that would have given New York a 96-95 lead.

The Knicks would cry foul, but no whistle blew during the frantic sequence.

"Our defense is capable of stopping a team down the stretch," said Pippen, who provided 28 points and 11 rebounds. "On that last defensive series we were just trying to scratch the ball out, and we won the battle."

Indeed. Instead of a Knicks lead, B. J. Armstrong, who had hit a clutch three-pointer from the left corner to put the Bulls ahead, 95-93, with 76 seconds left, broke free for an insurance layup at the buzzer, leaving the crowd of 19,763 groaning in disbelief.

It gave the Bulls a third straight victory over the Knicks, who had won 27 straight at home, including the first two games of this series. Chicago can advance to the finals against the survivor of the Phoenix-Seattle series by winning at home tomorrow night.

All the odds and history now weigh heavily against the Knicks, who, in 12 previous attempts, have never won a seven-game series after losing the fifth game.

New York had played all season long to gain the home-court advantage, but now it has slipped away at the worst possible time.

"This may now be the defining moment in this team's life," said Knicks coach Pat Riley. "But when you get to this level, losing a game like this can be very painful. Now we're going to have to do it the hard way."

The Knicks certainly had their chances last night to seize this blue-collar series by the throat. But they converted only 20 of 35 free throws, and, for the first time in the series, were out-rebounded by the Bulls, 48-37.

"We kept our poise, controlled the tempo and held the lead for most of the game," said Bulls coach Phil Jackson. "It was 48 minutes of 'Come and get us.' Now this puts us at match point, and let's see what happens."

The Bulls needed a strong finish by Jordan, who scored 19 of his team-high 29 points in the second half, and, in one torrid stretch, accounted for 17 straight Bulls points. He also contributed 14 assists and 10 rebounds in recording a triple-double.

When Jordan struggled with his shooting (3-for-12) in the first half, Pippen picked up the slack with 17 points, helping to offset the Knicks' 67 percent shooting from the field.

The Bulls also got an unexpected offensive lift from center Bill Cartwright, who scored all 13 of his points in the first half before getting in foul trouble.

All-NBA center Patrick Ewing, who has never played for a title, carried the Knicks on his broad shoulders, scoring a game-high 33 points and grabbing nine rebounds. But this time, he got little offensive help from guard John Starks, who was limited to three field goals and eight points.

While all five Bulls starters scored in double figures, only reserve forward Anthony Mason (17 points) gave Ewing solid offensive support.

Still, the Knicks hung tough, and held the lead briefly when Doc Rivers swished a three-pointer for a 92-91 lead. Grant tied it by making one of two free throws, and Ewing followed suit to put New York up by one with 1:36 left.

But Armstrong found a propitious time to make the Bulls' only three-pointer of the game.

"That was a real big shot by B. J.," said Jackson. "We kept telling Michael to move the ball and find the open man, and he spotted B. J. free in the corner."

Said Armstrong: "I knew Michael or Scottie would be looking for me. I was open, and just stepped up and hit it. That's why you practice all those hours."

But the clock is now ticking down on the Knicks, who were still putting up a tough front.

"We've got people on this team who are going to come out and fight," Starks vowed. "Being on their turf will only make us fight that much harder."

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