Pippen shares his pain with Jazz Despite aching back, Bulls swingman helps Chicago close out series

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

SALT LAKE CITY -- There was one playoff series early in his career, against the Detroit Pistons, that he sat out a big game with a migraine headache. In another series, against the New York Knicks, he rebelled with 1.8 seconds remaining when a final offensive play wasn't designed for him.

So what did Scottie Pippen do last night when a nagging back injury limited him to just seven minutes in the first half? He gutted it out in the second half and played 19 minutes that, while not spectacular, were effective as the Chicago Bulls won their third straight NBA title.

"I just wanted to get this series over with," Pippen said of his rigid return to the court in the second half. "I wanted the team to stay close, and allow me the opportunity to come out and give my best 24 minutes, which didn't look that great, especially in my eye."

Pippen's effectiveness was enough that the Utah players had to respect him on the court. Thus, Utah was forced to play him on the perimeter on occasions when it might have been wise to double-team Michael Jordan. And Pippen did hit a big jumper with 5: 06 left, his only field goal of the fourth quarter, that cut a three-point Utah lead to 77-76.

"It was important for me to try to be on the court and make my

presence known and try to be effective any way possible," Pippen said. "I think I have a great knowledge of the game, knowing what I could do and what I could not do out there."

Pippen injured his back in the Eastern Conference finals against the Indiana Pacers, and aggravated it during Friday's Game 5 loss in Chicago. He spent the better part of yesterday getting treatment. He scored Chicago's first basket of the game on a dunk that aggravated the injury.

"From that point in, I started feeling spasms in my back as I ran every time I put my right leg down," Pippen said. "I told Phil to take me out, it was very difficult for me, and I decided I would take as much treatment as I could."

That electric stimulation treatment helped Pippen loosen, and he started the second half and contributed to ending the series.

Now, whether the Bulls can avoid the break-up of their team falls mainly on the shoulders of Pippen.

Management claimed it would attempt to bring everyone back if the sixth title was won. But Pippen has been leaning toward leaving once he's a free agent, and his departure might force Jordan into retirement.

"I'm not thinking about that right now," Pippen said. "Give me a couple of days, and I'll get you an answer."

Notes: Utah set NBA Finals records for fewest points, six-game series (481), fewest free-throw attempts (112), and fewest offensive rebounds (56). Jordan added the NBA Finals MVP to his all-star and regular-season MVP awards. It's the third sweep in NBA history (Jordan did it in 1996, and Willis Reed in 1970).

Benchmark

The Bulls' Phil Jackson moved into sole possession of second place on the list of NBA coaching championships:

.. .. ..Coach .. .. .. ..Seasons

.. .. .. .Red Auerbach .. .'57, '59-66

6 .. .. .. .Phil Jackson .. .'91-93, '96-98

5 .. .. .. .John Kundla .. ..'49-50, '52-54

4 .. .. .. .Pat Riley .. .. .'82, '84, '87-88

Pub Date: 6/15/98

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