Rising Sun Dumas is ray of hope Rookie stands up to Finals pressure

June 11, 1993|By Alan Goldstein | Alan Goldstein,Staff Writer

PHOENIX -- Of all the predictions on how the Phoenix Suns would respond to playing the two-time champion Chicago Bulls in the NBA Finals, only Suns rookie forward Richard Dumas seemed to get it right.

Before Wednesday night's series opener at the America West Arena, Dumas said: "I think there will be a lot of pressure on our two key guys, Kevin Johnson and Charles Barkley, because they've been around a while and haven't won a championship.

"People expect me to break down because I'm a rookie. But that's just why I don't feel any pressure. Sure, I'd like to win a ring my first year, but I don't have to go through what K. J. and Charles are going through."

Give Dumas high marks as an analyst.

As Dumas said after the 100-92, opening-game loss: "A lot of guys got caught up in the excitement. We were going, 'Wow!' while the Bulls were just doing their thing."

While Barkley and Johnson seemed frozen in the spotlight, Dumas played with surprising poise and saved the Suns from embarrassment, as the Bulls stole the home-court advantage.

The Bulls had plotted to neutralize Johnson's penetration and Barkley's inside power. But Dumas was considered the most vulnerable Suns starter in his matchup with All-NBA small forward Scottie Pippen.

So much for strategy. Johnson bumbled and fumbled his way to 4-for-13 shooting, five turnovers and two assists. Three of his ball-handling errors came in the first quarter, when the Bulls raced to a 34-20 lead.

Barkley, the league's Most Valuable Player, was almost as ineffective, shooting nine of 25 to produce 21 points under tight defense by Horace Grant and the swarming Bulls. Barkley also was limited to three offensive rebounds.

Meanwhile, Dumas grabbed eight of his 12 rebounds off the offensive boards and added 20 points with darting moves to the basket and a soft jump shot.

"If there is one thing I have, it's confidence. Barkley gave me that," said Dumas, who had been benched by Suns coach Paul Westphal in the deciding game of the Western finals for defensive reasons.

"I played hard, and that's what counts. They asked me to step up, and that's what I did."

Johnson and Barkley seemed to step back, somewhat in awe of the Bulls' defensive reputation.

Their efforts were reminiscent of the 128-111 defeat the Suns took from the Bulls here Nov. 22.

Barkley, who was added to put some toughness in the Suns, said at the time: "If you're going to play like a puppy, you shouldn't be on the floor with the big dogs."

But after this latest whipping, Barkley was less emotional.

"I'm supposed to be the team leader, so I'm taking responsibility for this loss," he said.

Johnson said: "I don't think it was a case of nerves. But we just didn't match their level of aggressiveness and intensity.

"Personally, I was horrendous," said the playmaker, who, at times, appeared to be dribbling too much.

"B. J. [Armstrong] and their other guards did a good job of pressuring us on the perimeter and in the full court, and their front line did a good job of clogging the middle and helping out. But defense has been the Bulls' trademark the last two years."

Johnson also had his problems on defense trying to contain Armstrong, who did not commit a turnover in 38 minutes, contributed 16 points and five assists and sealed the Bulls victory with a three-point shot that provided an 11-point spread with 2:15 remaining.

Although Barkley scored nine of his 21 in the fourth quarter, he in no way resembled the overpowering forward who put the Sonics to rest with a 44-point, 24-rebound performance last Saturday.

The Bulls kept him off balance by double-teaming him early in the game and providing only single coverage in the later stages.

"We just mixed up our defenses," said Grant. "I think that confused him. But I didn't shut him down. He just missed his shots."

Barkley shared this opinion.

"I wasn't making any shots, so they didn't have to double me," he said. "Kevin and I both struggled, but that proves we're only human, and games like this will happen to us occasionally."

But if it happens again in Game 2 tonight, the Suns could be headed to a four-game sweep by the Bulls.

Michael Jordan seemed to save his best for last, scoring 17 of his game-high 31 in the last quarter to stave off the Suns' final rally. Pippen had difficulty stopping Dumas, but no problems offensively, contributing 27 points and five assists.

"We anticipated getting a lot easier shots against the Suns than we did against the Knicks [in the Eastern finals]," said Bulls coach Phil Jackson. "I think that's the reason why everyone felt so open, free to shoot in the first half. Everything happened positively for us, and helped us build a 20-point lead."

Said Jordan: "I like our team attitude now. We feel we have an opportunity to be aggressive and greedy. We're very relaxed, confident and focused on what we're trying to achieve. We're not rattled by anything."

But the Suns were not backing down.

"Let's not go crazy after just one game," said Barkley. "But if we lose this next one . . . then we can go crazy," he added with a sly smile.

NBA FINALS

` BULLS VS. SUNS (Bulls lead series, 1-0)

Game 1.. .. Bulls, 100-92

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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