For the first two games of the NBA Finals, the Seattle SuperSonics didn't win, but they did have hope. They managed to keep Michael Jordan in check, or at least avoid having him cut them down like a welding torch.
But by Sunday afternoon, the bad news had arrived: Jordan was back to being perfect. Like coffee houses and smoked salmon, he was all over the Puget Sound. By halftime he had 27 points, the Bulls led by 24, and it was all through but the excuses. The Bulls won 108-86, putting Seattle in position to join 29 other teams in NBA history who have been swept in a seven-game series."We," said Seattle forward Detlef Schrempf, "are in a big hole."
Having lost three straight, even the Sonics - who have been as thick as coffee sludge about admitting their dire predicament until now - were sounding doubtful about going where no team has gone before.
"The odds are against us. Everything's against us," said Seattle coach George Karl. "All we've gotta do is go out and show some pride."
Since the Finals began last week, the Sonics were hoping that once the series went to Seattle they could gain momentum and confidence. They didn't get it in Chicago, where they fell by 17 in Game 1 and and by four in Game 2.However, once the Sonics got to Seattle, they were starting to feel better. The sun was shining - which is good news anytime in the Northwest - the birds singing, the whales jumping and, best of all, the Sonics were playing in Key Arena, where they lost only three games in the regular season.
If they were going to make a stand, it would be there. "I think we were thinking the crowd was going to give us that (lift)," said Karl. "They came out and basically shut the crowd out."
Before the game even began, the team's marketing and events people had done their best to make Sunday's game a partisan one. They enlisted jazz musician Kenny G, a Seattle native, to play the national anthem. He obliged with a soulful saxophone version that included one note that lasted far longer than the Sonics. When he got to " . . . o'er the land of the . . . fr-e-e-e-e-e-e!", the Bulls were already picking up basketballs to resume warmups.
The wait only served to delay the Sonics' dreadful afternoon
Soon to follow was more buildup. The public address system announced that besides the 17,000 fans in the arena, there were "hundreds of thousands" of Bulls fans tuned in by television and at pubs and restaurants all around the Northwest, just waiting to cheer. They asked Jack Sikma, who played for the Sonics when they won their only NBA title (1979) to lead the crowd in what was ostensibly the biggest group cheer in history.
It may also have been the shortest.
Soon after tipoff, Jordan lofted a 3-pointer that gave the Bulls a 7-0 lead. He faded for a score over Hersey Hawkins. It was obvious already that Jordan was in his groove. But his serious scoring came late in the first half. First, he nailed four straight free throws, then scored from 10 and 17 feet. Next, he slipped out to the top of the key for a 3-pointer over David Wingate. Suddenly, Wingate, who came in 14 seconds earlier to guard Jordan, was the loneliest man on earth. He couldn't run, couldn't hide and he certainly couldn't do anything about Jordan. You wanted to throw him a life preserver.
Another basket and two free throws later, Jordan had scored 15 straight points and the Bulls were up by 24. Jordan finished the game with 36 points.
"I saw a need to step it up a little," said Jordan. "I had a great rhythm going on offense, and I was seeing a lot of shots, so I took 'em."
Though the Sonics got the lead down to 12 in the third quarter, they never threatened. It was like reading the last page of a book too soon - everyone knew the finish.
"I think he had a lot of tough shots in that time that bordered on unstoppable, which we know there are probably three or four guys in the NBA that are capable of doing it. Tonight Michael did it to us," said Karl.
Thus ended Seattle's hopes of regaining its momentum at home. And of keeping Jordan in check. And of making the series something more than a speed bump on the Bulls' drive to the history books. It was no longer a matter of trying to contain Jordan, it was a matter of getting out of his way.