Grant's bump and grind keeps Barkley contained

June 10, 1993|By Skip Myslenski | Skip Myslenski,Chicago Tribune

PHOENIX -- Horace Grant of the Chicago Bulls is now familia with the role, is now resigned to the battering that role delivers him. He played it against the New York Knicks, where his slam-dance partner was Charles Oakley, and before last night's opener of the NBA Finals, he was told he had to play it again against the battering Charles Barkley.

"The whole coaching staff told me that," Grant said. "They told me don't worry about my points, to just lay my body on the line for us."

"That's right," Phil Jackson said, smiling. "He was our lamb."

Horace Grant was hardly that on a night he spent waging a willful battle with Barkley. He was not expected to dominate him, nor was he asked to post any glittering numbers. He was simply asked to control Barkley, to keep Barkley from picking up the Phoenix Suns and carrying them on his very huge shoulders.

Grant carried out that task through 44 long minutes. His totals were indeed modest in the Bulls' 100-92 victory, 11 points and seven rebounds. But Barkley, despite scoring 21 points, made just nine of 25 field-goal attempts and managed only 11 rebounds.

"I played bad," Barkley admitted. "Sometimes I think our team feeds on me. When I have a bad night, they play bad."

"He didn't shoot the ball well, and you have to give Horace credit for that," said Scottie Pippen. "He did a good job on him. Charles expected a lot of double teams, but he didn't get it. That kept him off balance. Give Horace credit for that, too."

"I love it," Grant said of facing Barkley. "It's a challenge. He's one of the most exciting players in the game. He's the Most Valuable Player. He had a great series against Seattle [in the Western Conference finals].

"Really, I look forward to it. Not as a chance to prove myself. But when I play a great player, most of the time he brings out the best in me."

Grant was at his best early as the Bulls built the lead that would carry them through this emotional evening. He held Barkley to 3-for-9 shooting in the first quarter, 4-for-9 for the half, and found time to score some points of his own.

He hit a short hook with less than three minutes gone and followed with a fast-break layup and a foul shot. He hit a short jumper from the paint, a driving layup at the end of another fast break, then one more jumper with 42.1 seconds left in the first quarter to push the Bulls' lead to 12.

That ended Grant's scoring for the night, but that did not matter.

"One of our main focuses," he explained, "was for me to go in there and make him work on defense, to try and get him a little tired. I think that worked to our advantage."

It certainly worked well enough to make Barkley struggle, to transform his first Finals appearance into a long night. After scoring 44 points and grabbing 24 rebounds in a splendid Game 7 against Seattle, Barkley was muted, mortal, never able to discover the rhythm that would allow him to soar.

He shot 2-for-7 in the third quarter, and while the Suns were making their last, futile run in the fourth, he managed a mere five shots, making three. Grant was sacrificing his body throughout these minutes, harassing Barkley, bumping up against him, controlling him with just a little help from his friends.

Rarely is Barkley played this way, almost always is he confronted by double teams. That is when he is doubly dangerous. That is when he is able to either shoot or hit an open man. But that second option was stripped from him, another product of Grant's effort, and that in turn help short-circuit a huge part of the Suns' offense.

"I did not shut Charles Barkley down. I want to make that clear," Grant said.

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