Jordan hits finishing nail 87-86 win over Utah provides Chicago its sixth title of '90s

Bulls get repeat threepeat

Heroics net Jordan sixth NBA Finals MVP

June 15, 1998|By Jerry Bembry | Jerry Bembry,SUN STAFF

SALT LAKE CITY -- It was, in Michael Jordan's words, "the moment." And in this particular moment, in perhaps the last game of his NBA career, the Chicago Bulls' guard had the ball in his hands in the closing seconds with his team trailing by a point.

In his control, a potential third straight NBA title.

"My thoughts were very positive," Jordan would say later last night. "The crowd gets quiet. Once you get into the moment, you know you're there. Things start moving slowly, you start to see the court very well. I saw that moment and I took advantage of it."

Of course, Jordan delivered. This delivery was in the form of a 17-foot jumper with five seconds left, giving the Chicago Bulls an 87-86 win and the team's sixth championship of the 1990s.

In a season that's been billed as the "Last Dance" for the Bulls, who could lose Jordan to retirement if the team breaks up this off-season, the Chicago guard may have saved his best performance for last.

On a night when teammate Scottie Pippen was hobbled by a sore back and scored just eight points, Jordan carried the team with a game-high 45 points -- including the last eight.

"Last year, the fifth game here, I don't think you could top that performance he had in that game," said Chicago coach Phil Jackson, referring to Jordan's game-saving effort here when he was recovering from food poisoning. "I think he topped it. I think it was the best Michael performance ever in a critical game."

Even after Jordan made his basket, the Bulls had to survive one last Utah attempt. But John Stockton's game-winning, three-point attempt was inches short, bouncing off the rim. And when the final buzzer sounded, Pippen ran to Jordan and clutched him in a tearful embrace, perhaps the final time the two key components of the Bulls' dynasty stand together wearing the same uniform.

"Right now, I just have to let everything soak in," Pippen said later. "There's a lot of opportunities out there for me and I have to look down the road to my future. But I don't know. After all this soaks in and I get my back back on track, you never know."

For Utah, the game proved to be an opportunity lost as the team failed to take advantage of Pippen's ineffectiveness. The Jazz did get 31 points from Karl Malone, and 17 from Jeff Hornacek. But failure down the stretch cost Utah.

The Jazz scored just one field goal in the final four minutes, a huge three-pointer by Stockton from the right side -- on a pass from Malone -- that gave Utah an 86-83 lead with 41 seconds left.

But Jordan came back and hit a quick jumper with 37 seconds left, cutting the lead to 86-85. And then Jordan made perhaps the biggest play of the game, double-teaming Malone in the post and cleanly stripping the ball away with 18 seconds left.

And that set up the shot, with Bryon Russell playing single coverage on Jordan. Jordan faked driving to the right, knocking Russell off-balance. Then he pulled up from just beyond the foul line and lofted the game-winning shot that hit all net. That Jordan had time allowed him to get into his "moment," unlike during Friday's Game 5 loss when his potentially game-winning shot with just under a second left resulted in an air ball.

"I felt like we couldn't call a timeout, it gives defense an opportunity to set up," Jordan said. "It was a do-or-die situation. I let the time tick to where I had the court right where I wanted to.

"As soon as Russell reached, he gave me a clear lane, which I made my initial drive," Jordan added. "He bit on it and I stopped, pulled up and had an easy shot."

And even losing Utah coach Jerry Sloan, although disappointed in the outcome, was impressed by Jordan's play down the stretch.

"All your philosophies, you can throw them out the window," Sloan said of defending Jordan. "You can double him, push him to the middle, but great players make those types of plays."

Leading up to that last stretch when he scored Chicago's final eight points, Jordan appeared to tire. During the midpoint of the fourth quarter, Jordan was short while missing three straight jumpers. But then on Chicago's next possession, Pippen hit a short jumper that pulled the Bulls to within 77-76, and Dennis Rodman followed by hitting one of two free throws that tied the game at 77.

Rodman's final numbers (seven points, eight rebounds) don't reflect his huge contribution in the game. Twice in the third quarter, with the Bulls trying to stay close, Rodman scored on tip-ins off missed shots by Pippen (eight points, three rebounds in 26 minutes). And his defensive play down the stretch against Malone (one fourth-quarter field goal) helped him avoid a prolonged stay in Salt Lake City.

"I just knew I had to play basketball," Rodman said, when asked whether he needed to step up with Pippen ailing. "Last year, I was unable to be effective as a basketball player because of a knee injury. This year was a lot different.

"I have to give it to the team," Rodman added. "Everybody stuck together and we won."

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