Of all people, Rodman puts Bulls closer

June 11, 1998|By Ken Rosenthal

CHICAGO -- Practice? Who needs practice?

It's every high school basketball coach's worst nightmare.

Dennis Rodman is a hero.

Rodman made four free straight throws in the final minutes last night, lifting the Chicago Bulls to a 86-82 victory over Utah in Game 4 of the NBA Finals.

Rodman, a 55 percent free throw shooter, appeared at a live wrestling show after missing practice Monday. But once again, he gets the last laugh.

Not only did The Green Lantern make six of his eight free throws, he helped limit Karl Malone to two points in the fourth quarter.

"I've got a bum hand, ligament damage in my thumb, but what the heck, it's all about putting your [guts] on the line," Rodman said.

The Jazz rallied from a seven-point deficit to tie the score late in the final period, but Michael Jordan scored on two drives in the final 2: 30, and Rodman finished Utah off.

Now the Bulls are within one victory of their sixth NBA title in the '90s, an astonishing run that likely is in its final days.

Take a good look at them tomorrow night -- coach Phil Jackson, Jordan and Pippen, even Rodman. It may indeed be their last dance, their last glorious stand.

The fans sense what is coming -- Jordan was greeted by hundreds of flash cameras upon being introduced, and every time he shot a free throw.

Game 5 now looms as the Bulls' grand finale, their version of the Beatles' "Let It Be" album.

"Let It Be" -- how appropriate.

If only management would sing along.

The only Bulls under contract for next season are Toni Kukoc, Ron Harper, Randy Brown and Keith Booth.

We all love Booth, the kid from East Baltimore, Dunbar High and the University of Maryland.

But as a replacement for MJ?

Yikes!

The only people happy about Jordan's possible retirement are all those NBA stars who could never win a title with him active.

Patrick Ewing. Charles Barkley. And, of course, Malone.

The "Mailman" is an 11-time All-Star. He was the league MVP last season. No one outside of Utah cares. He's about to be 0-for-2 in the Finals.

Indeed, the back-to-back losses to the Bulls will be a major blemish on his career, even if he is possibly the greatest power forward in NBA history.

Unfair?

Tell it to Jordan, whose ability to win championships repeatedly was questioned during his first six seasons.

Malone shot horribly in Games 1 and 2, disappeared after a strong start in Game 3, and faded again against Rodman in Game 4.

"He can do anything he wants on Luc Longley, but on me he can't," Rodman said. "I've got too much heart."

To Malone, those words surely sting. But he has not exerted his will. He has not dominated inside. He has not lifted his team, as Jordan has time and time again.

John Stockton led the Jazz's comeback from a seven-point fourth-quarter deficit. The Utah bench was magnificent. But Malone was nowhere to be found.

The fatigue that the Bulls faced after their seven-game series against Indiana? The deep bench that supposedly was to give Utah a huge advantage?

As always, Jordan and Co. could not be bothered with such piddling questions.

Their 42-point victory in Game 3 sent a devastating message, and will be remembered as the turning point of this series. Still, at that point, it wasn't as if Utah was through.

A victory last night, and the Jazz would have tied the series and regained home-court advantage, with two of the next three games at the Delta Center.

The Bulls understood the stakes, even as their fans began planning their celebrations. The Bulls weren't about to let the Jazz up for air.

They're now 33-4 in the playoffs at the United Center. They're not going back to Utah. They haven't lost at home in the Finals since June 18, 1993.

Last night, Scottie Pippen was a revelation from the start, hitting four three-pointers in the first half, scoring the Bulls' first seven points of the second quarter.

The Bulls shot only 34.9 percent in the first half, but still led at intermission, 39-37. Pippen and Jordan combined for 32 of their 39 points.

Stockton and Malone weren't nearly as productive. Stockton got shut out in the first quarter, and Malone missed six of seven shots after hitting his first four.

The game began to slip away midway through the third quarter, when Bryon Russell missed two free throws, Malone blew an open layup and Adam Keefe failed to handle a Malone pass underneath.

The Bulls converted the miscues into a 53-47 lead, the crowd roaring, sensing victory. But Utah regrouped, getting six straight points from backup point guard Howard Eisley, and entered the fourth quarter trailing 61-57.

What happened? Malone missed his first two shots, and the Jazz went nearly 3 1/2 minutes without scoring. Stockton led the comeback, and Jeff Hornacek hit a jumper to tie the score with 3: 15 left, but that was as close as it got.

In the end, the Jazz suffered the ultimate humiliation, getting beaten by a player viewed by so many as a joke.

Don't look now, America.

Dennis Rodman is a hero.

Pub Date: 6/11/98

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