Bulls set Suns back two, 111-108 next stop, Chicago Barkley scores 42, but Jordan matches it

June 12, 1993|By Alan Goldstein | Alan Goldstein,Staff Writer

PHOENIX -- The defending champion Chicago Bulls' quest for a three-peat began looking a lot more like sweep-peat last night as they withstood a magnificent 42-point performance by Charles Barkley to edge the Phoenix Suns, 111-108, and take a 2-0 lead in the best-of-seven NBA Finals.

The series now shifts to Chicago tomorrow for the next three games, with the playing of Game 5 next Friday now highly speculative.

Michael Jordan refused to let this one get away. He matched Barkley's 42 points, including 10 straight for the Bulls in a six-minute span in the fourth quarter, to repel repeated rallies by the Suns.

Phoenix rookie coach Paul Westphal put up a brave front despite the almost impossible task now facing his Suns. No team has come back to win a championship series after losing the first two at home

"We don't feel we're dead," he said. "Sure, it looks very bad for us right now, but we beat the Bulls on their home floor this season.

"Of course, we have to beat them twice there to bring the series back to Phoenix, but the Bulls will have to play on as great a level as they have to put us away."

Westphal and Bulls coach Phil Jackson agreed that this was a game for the ages, with superstars Barkley and Jordan more than living up to their lofty reputations.

"I was just in awe of Barkley and Jordan," said Westphal. "They both played great, and Charles gave every ounce of effort in his body. There is no reason for my team to hang their heads. We lost a great basketball game."

Said Jackson: "That was one of the classic battles of all time. It was truly a battle of wills between two great players, but it was too much to ask of Barkley to carry the whole team on his shoulders."

The monumental task clearly took its toll on the league's Most Valuable Player. Barkley, embarrassed by his subpar 21-point performance in the opener, came out strong, scoring 35 points in the first three quarters. But he was visibly fatigued in the fourth quarter.

"I just told [Bulls forward] Horace Grant to keep pressure on Charles," said Jordan. "In the fourth quarter, we took advantage of how tired he was."

While Barkley tried to catch his breath, Jordan, after a brief respite, scored 12 points in the final quarter to keep the Suns at bay.

"I just tried to make myself as aggressive as possible and give us the cushion we needed," said Jordan. "It was another case of an experienced team not folding down the stretch. We made the big defensive plays and executed our offense like champions."

Jordan, determined to make basketball history as the leader of the first team to win three straight since the Boston Celtics dynasty in the 1960s, would like to wrap it up, quickly and neatly.

"Right now, the Suns are like a scratching cat," he said. "We have to keep them cornered, and make some of the guys who usually don't have to step forward, try to do what they're not capable of. We're in excellent position to dictate to them now."

Both games were argueably winnable by the Suns, especially if Kevin Johnson, their veteran floor leader, had lived up to expectations."

But Johnson, who admitted he was "horrendous" in the opening loss Wednesday night, struggled more last night, making only two of eight shots for four points, matching his number of turnovers in 32 frustrating minutes of trying to penetrate the Bulls' defense.

And, perhaps for the first time in his seven distinguished seasons in Phoenix, Johnson heard the catcalls of the hometown crowd.

Barkley rallied to his defense, cursing the fans for their lack of faith.

"We wouldn't be here without KJ," Barkley growled. "So I say to our Suns fans, 'If you're going to boo us, stay home.' "

Reserve guard Danny Ainge (20 points), who owns a pair of championship rings from his days in Boston, did his best to keep the Suns alive in the frantic closing minutes.

A Jordan jumper from the top of the key had given the Bulls a seemingly safe 106-98 advantage with 1:48 remaining. But Ainge answered with a three-point shot and then trimmed the deficit to three points by hitting a layup with 58 seconds left.

After a Chicago miss, Ainge had a chance to tie it, lining up another three-pointer from behind the circle. But Pippen, with his unusually long reach, tipped the shot away.

Pippen, who enjoyed a triple-double with 15 points, 12 rebounds and 12 assists, was fouled by Frank Johnson and made two free throws for a 108-103 cushion with 17 seconds left.

Ainge hurried downcourt for another layup, but Jordan and Pippen then strung together four straight foul shots to make Ainge's buzzer-beating three-pointer meaningless.

The Bulls had taken Barkley's and the Suns' best shots and survived, and that made Barkley sound all the more weary.

"I'm not exhausted," said the redoubtable forward who was brought to the desert this season to produce a championship. "I gave it all I could. I laid it on the line.

"We had opportunities to win both these games, but we just didn't get over the hump. Maybe that's why they're champions."


BULLS VS. SUNS (Bulls lead series, 2-0)

Game 1 Bulls, 100-92

Last night Bulls, 111-108

Tomorrow at Chicago 7 p.m.

Wednesday at Chicago 9 p.m.

Friday* 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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