Bulls' quick start is enough to hold off Suns, 100-92 Jordan says he's 'at peace' after thwarting Phoenix rally

June 10, 1993|By Alan Goldstein | Alan Goldstein,Staff Writer

PHOENIX -- Michael Jordan ended a two-week vow of silenc last night, saying "I'm just interested in making basketball history," leading the Chicago Bulls to a third straight NBA championship.

The Bulls superstar took a big step in that direction, saving 14 of his game-high 31 points for the fourth quarter as Chicago fought off repeated rallies by the youthful Phoenix Suns to win the opening game of the best-of-seven finals, 100-92, at the America West Arena.

"I'm at peace with myself," said Jordan, who had boycotted the media because of reports about his gambling. "My main focus was always basketball. Everything else is irrevelant."

With the Suns seemingly suffering from stage fright in their first title appearance in 17 years, the poised Bulls jumped out to a 44-24 lead in the first half and were never headed.

"I think our biggest edge was psychological," said Bulls coach Phil Jackson. "With our experience, we had the ability to get out to a big lead while they were making defensive adjustments."

With Jordan content to set up his "supporting cast," Horace Grant scored 11 first-quarter points, Olympic sidekick Scottie Pippen drove the lane at will and Chicago shot 60 percent (24-for-40) from the field in the first half.

But things got extremely sticky for the defending champions in the second half when Suns rookie Richard Dumas (20 points, 12 rebounds) joined Dan Majerle and Charles Barkley in slicing the deficit to 88-85 with 4:25 remaining.

But just as they had in winning the last four games of the Eastern finals to eliminate the New York Knicks, the Bulls made all the big plays in crunch time.

Jordan started the decisive run with a pair of foul shots. After Pippen converted one of two free throws, Jordan blocked Majerle's shot, leading to a breakaway slam by Pippen on the other end of the floor. Then B. J. Armstrong repeated his Knick-killing act with a three-point shot to give Chicago a 96-85 cushion with 2:15 left.

There would be no more comebacks for the Suns, with Barkley, their spiritual and physical leader, held to 21 points on 9-for-25 shooting.

The Bulls gambled for the most part by not doubling down on Barkley, entrusting Grant with keeping the league's MVP from utilizing his favored baseline power moves and crashing the offensive boards.

"I thought I had good shots," said Barkley. "They just didn't go in. I didn't play well, and sometimes that affects my teammates. So I guess I have to take responsibility for this loss."

But Barkley did not deserve all the blame. Suns playmaker Kevin Johnson experienced a more frustrating night, scoring only 11 points in 34 minutes on 4-for-13 shooting, and committing five turnovers against the Bulls' multiple traps.

"We really fed off our defensive intensity tonight, and B. J. was our catalyst the way he checked Kevin Johnson," said Pippen.

For Suns head coach Paul Westphal, who recorded a record 62 wins in his rookie year, it was simply a case of giving Jordan and the Bulls too big a handicap.

"I don't think it was stage fright," he said. "They just came out more aggressively offensively and defensively. Once we got behind, it was tough catching up. Every time we got close, they made a critical play to hold us off."

And then, of course, it was Jordan who made certain the Suns' valiant comeback would fail.

"I didn't want to force the issue in the first half," said Jordan. "I was looking to get everyone involved. With Horace scoring down low, that opened up our perimeter game. But with Scottie sitting out the start of the fourth quarter, I had to get myself going offensively. And everything kind of fell in place."

Perfectly for the Bulls, who stole the home-court advantage from the Suns, who will try to get even here tomorrow before the series shifts to Chicago for the next three games.

Westphal, who rallied his troops after a near opening-round elimination by the Los Angeles Lakers, tried to downplay this latest defeat.

"I've always felt that to win an NBA title, you have to win a game on the road, and that's our task now," he said. "After one game, it's always doom and gloom for the losers and party time for the winners."

For a relieved Jordan, it was definitely a breath of fresh air. He already had made a golf date for today.



(Best of seven)

Last night Bulls 100, Suns 92

Tomorrow at Phoenix 9 p.m.

Sunday at Chicago 7 p.m.

Wednesday at Chicago 9 p.m.

June 18* at Chicago 9 p.m.

June 20* at Phoenix 7 p.m.

June 23* at Phoenix 9 p.m.

* If necessary

TV: Chs. 2, 4

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