Let the coronation begin for Michael Jordan and the Chicago Bulls.
"I still think we can win some games," Seattle's Gary Payton said. "But they're a championship team."In a few days, the Bulls may be more than mere champions. They may be known as the No. 1 team of all time.
Chicago put itself in position to complete the best season ever, taking a 3-0 NBA Finals lead over the SuperSonics with a 108-86 victory Sunday night. Jordan had 36 points, dominating the series for the first time.
The Bulls can finish the sweep - and an unprecedented 15-1 postseason run - by winning Wednesday. That would come on the heels of their record 72-win regular season.
Sunday was an affirmation of their greatness.
Despite taking the first two games, Chicago hadn't played very well. Jordan had averaged 28.5 points, good for mere mortals but not for the league's career leader in scoring average.
In Game 3, however, the Bulls took a 34-12 lead and led by double digits the rest of the way. Jordan was outstanding, especially when Seattle tried to rally. He scored 15 straight Chicago points during a fabulous four-minute stretch at the end of the first half and opened the fourth quarter with five quick points to make sure the outcome was never really in doubt.
"I saw a team that wasn't going to lose," Seattle coach George Karl said. "It was the first time I've seen them with killer eyes."
Said Jordan: "Hopefully, he didn't think we would come out here and not have killer eyes. We sensed an opportunity to grasp this series. But this team has done that all season long. It hasn't just happened here in the playoffs."
A fourth championship in six years now is more than just likely, it's practically a sure thing.
No team in history has come back from a 3-0 deficit in any playoff round.
"We've got an exceptional group of leaders," said Luc Longley, who had a playoff career-high 19 points. "It would stun me if we didn't come out very, very focused in the next game. That's why we've won all year. I don't think it's going to let us down in the fourth game of the finals."
Said Dennis Rodman: "Let's get this one and just go home."Rodman again stood up to the rough-house tactics of Frank Brickowski, taking an elbow to the chops as Brickowski was ejected for the second time this series. Rodman, meanwhile, had 10 rebounds.
And the Bulls finally silenced the brash, young SuperSonics.
"I must admit trash-talking is part of the game. I talk trash, too," Jordan said. "But in these circumstances, a veteran team knows you can't just go out there and do a lot of lip service. You've got to go out and play the game, eventually.
"In someone else's home . . . it's hard to come in here and talk trash because they've got 17-, 18,000 people supporting them and we've got our wives and a couple of office people. That eliminates a lot of talking trash. It's up to us to let our game do our talking."
Once the Sonics' talk was quieted, all they had left was trash.
Seattle missed eight of its first 10 shots. It fell behind 34-16 after one quarter, with seven turnovers to Chicago's none. Shawn Kemp was lost when the Bulls double-teamed him; he finished with 14 points, less than half his average in the first two games. Payton was confused.
"I don't know what team was out there in the first quarter," Payton said. "We just didn't come to play."
The Bulls did, even though Ron Harper was limited to one minute by a sore knee. Toni Kukoc started in his place.
With Jordan scoring 12 points, Longley eight and Kukoc seven, Chicago's first quarter was the best offensive period of the series.
The Key Arena crowd, considered one of the NBA's loudest, never got into the game as the Sonics lost at home for just the sixth time this season. The Bulls, who set a league record with 33 road victories, are 5-1 on the road in the playoffs.
In their four appearances in the finals - including the title-winning years of 1991, 1992 and 1993 - they are 9-1 on the road.
"What we've done on the road, it's astonishing," Jordan said. "We know we're against all odds and we focus more. You're bonded together, 14, 16, 18 people strong. We focus on our responsibilities."
Jordan knows his responsibility.
Score. Lots. Quickly.
The Sonics had clawed back into contention, trailing only 45-31 with 41/2 minutes left in the first half. Over the next four minutes, Jordan outscored the entire Seattle team 15-7.
Jordan made four free throws, hit a 15-foot fade-away, made a 17-foot jumper, pulled up from 25 feet and hit a 3-pointer, made another 17-footer and ended his spree with two more foul shots. Teammate Scottie Pippen finished the half with a basket, giving the Bulls a 62-38 lead.
"I was just being really patient," Jordan said.