Jordan's 55 Drive Bulls To 2-0

Cheaney, Bullets Fail To Contain Superstar, Suffer 109-104 Defeat

Halftime Tirade Sets Tone

Bulls Can Sweep Series On Wednesday Night

April 28, 1997|By Jerry Bembry | Jerry Bembry,SUN STAFF

CHICAGO -- There was still a half to play, but Michael Jordan was livid. And once behind closed doors in the Chicago Bulls' locker room yesterday, Jordan lashed out at his lackadaisical teammates.

"I just felt like this is our building, and we were not playing our type of basketball," Jordan said. "That had to be vocalized. I may have taken it too far."

Maybe it was at that point that Jordan decided he didn't need his teammates. In the second half -- particularly the fourth quarter -- Jordan put on a spectacular one-man show, finishing with 55 points as the Bulls defeated the Washington Bullets, 109-104, to take a 2-0 lead in the best-of-five first-round playoff series.

Jordan's "double-nickel" matched his third-best scoring playoff game and equaled his high game since his return to basketball in 1995.

Jordan's spree yesterday was not easy, as most of the night Calbert Cheaney was draped all over him. But he continued to hit one tough shot after another, scoring 20 of Chicago's 23 fourth-quarter points to help the Bulls overcome a solid outing by the Bullets.

"That's my job," Jordan said after putting the Bulls in position for a three-game sweep when the teams meet Wednesday night at USAir Arena. "That's why I get paid the big dollars, to go out and do my job."

Jordan made 22 of 35 shots, including seven of 11 in the fourth quarter. The Bullets were within 86-84 early in the fourth quarter after forward Tracy Murray made two free throws with 10: 45 left.

But Jordan took over from there, scoring the Bulls' next 14 points. When that brief run ended with a 10-foot jumper with 4: 06 left, the Bulls led 100-93.

The only other Chicago player to score in the fourth quarter was Scottie Pippen, who was open for his three-pointer only because Jordan drove the lane and attracted three defenders -- forcing him to kick the ball out to his open teammate.

Jordan went on to score the Bulls' final six points, thwarting one Washington comeback attempt after another.

"There's nothing you could do," Murray said, shaking his head. "You double-, triple-team him and he's triple-pumping, falling and fading away, shooting up-and-unders from 15 and 17 feet away. He had his whole game going. I don't think Hercules could stop him tonight."

Trailing 65-58 at halftime, Jordan threw away the book on the triangle offense in the second half, basically taking the ball and going to work.

"I got into that zone. I couldn't get out," Jordan said. "The team knows me and when I get like that, they just let me go. I get that feeling they know I'm going to score. So do I."

Yet the Bulls would not have won had it not been for a defensive stand in the third quarter, when the Bullets, after Chris Webber went to bench with his fourth foul, went 6: 10 without a field goal.

Right after Webber sat, the Bulls scored 13 straight -- nine by Jordan. In all Chicago would go on a 17-2 run, turning a six-point deficit into an 84-75 lead.

"There were a couple of situations where we became impatient after getting an offensive rebound," coach Bernie Bickerstaff said of the Bullets' cold stretch. "We did not make good decisions. But we hung right in there."

Instead of getting blown away, the Bullets calmed down and were within 86-80 at the end of three quarters, with Cheaney converting a three-point play with 10 seconds left. And when Murray (22 points) made his two free throws early in the fourth, it appeared the Bullets would push the Bulls to the limit.

But Jordan had other plans. Jaren Jackson gave Cheaney a breather early in the fourth quarter and, told to guard Jordan closely, he committed four fouls in three minutes.

Cheaney returned and tried again to stop Jordan, but it was to no avail.

What the Bullets proved yesterday is that they can play with the Bulls. In dropping Game 1 on Friday night, the Bullets had to play mostly without Webber, who fouled out in 24 minutes.

Despite having five players get whistled for two fouls in the first quarter yesterday, the Bullets had their team intact for much of the game and gave the Bulls a difficult test.

Webber finished with 21 points and 12 rebounds. Cheaney's team-leading 26 points came on 10-for-18 shooting. And 16 of Murray's 22 points came in the first half, including a stretch at the start of the second quarter when he scored nine straight for Washington.

After Rod Strickland (16 points, eight assists) made two free throws with 53 seconds left, the Bullets were within 105-102. But Jordan slipped by Cheaney and Howard for a short jumper with 34 seconds left and added two foul shots with eight seconds to go, sealing the game.

"A lot of people say at 34 Michael's over the hill," Bullets forward Harvey Grant said. "I wish I was 34 or 35 playing like that. I think he took it as a challenge. He can take over a game. He has proven it year after year."

On several occasions Cheaney tried to talk Jordan up a bit, maybe as an attempt to distract him.

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