Forget about waiting until the last bit of unfinished business is completed Friday night, when the Chicago Bulls in all likelihood will wrap up this whole thing for the sixth time. Bag the pomp and circumstances and the official balloting, too. No need for all those time-consuming formalities.
Just hand him the 1998 NBA Finals Most Valuable Player trophy right now.So you're tired of Michael Jordan getting all the recognition, all the glory, all the accolades? Then try this for a change: Scottie Pippen, MVP.
Sure, Jordan, owner of five Finals MVP trophies, again led the Bulls in scoring with 34 points. His Airness also served as a defensive terror against the Jazz.
But if Pippen's defensive performance in Game 3 didn't convince you that he's worthy of being named MVP of the Finals, then what he did on both ends of the court in the Bulls' 86-82 Game 4 victory should have clinched the vote.
Pippen impressed Jerry Sloan.
"He was sensational," said the Jazz's coach.
After scoring just 10 points in Sunday's record-setting shellacking, Pippen was even more efficient offensively than Jordan Wednesday at the United Center. He scored 28 points on 9-of-18 shooting overall and went five-for-eight from beyond the arc. Jordan needed 27 shots from the floor and 15 from the free-throw line to get his total.
Pippen, who is much healthier now than he was a year ago in the Finals, carried the Bulls' offensive yolk for much of the first half. In the first quarter, he scored six of the Bull's first eight points by swishing two 3-pointers. He also crashed the glass early on, grabbing three offensive rebounds in the first three minutes. At one point, Pippen had three offensive boards while the Jazz were still waiting for their first rebound to fall in their hands.
He ended the first quarter and opened the second with a personal 8-0 run by nailing a trey, hitting an inside shot and then drilling another 3-pointer to give Chicago a 26-19 lead. Bryon Russell interrupted his scoring exhibition with a three, but Pippen kissed a banker off the glass on the Bulls' next possession. That concluded his one-man shooting show.
At that point, with 9:32 left in the second quarter, Pippen had scored 16 points and grabbed four rebounds - and he threw in one steal for good measure.
"He did a terrific job getting in the open court, pulling up and taking the 3-point shots, and got in a great rhythm," Sloan said. "We had a difficult time trying to guard him."
And that was just half the court.
"Defensively, he puts tremendous pressure on you. . . . He caused us a lot of problems, I think everybody is aware of that. We're aware of it," Sloan said. "We have trouble with him every time we play. And I don't know what more you can say. You can put him on any player on the floor, and he's going to do a terrific job defensively."
That versatility amazes ESPN basketball expert Dr. Jack Ramsay, a longtime coach in the NBA. Ramsay ranks Pippen among the outstanding defenders in the history of the game. Right there with K.C. Jones, Mel Hutchins, Satch Sanders and so on.
"I can't conjure up anybody who does all the things that Pippen does as a defender. I mean, he can defend anybody," Ramsay said. "We've seen him defend point guards and take them out of their game, two guards and deny them a shot, small forwards, big forwards. The only player that I haven't seen him defend well is the opposing center. I think he'd have a hard time with Shaq."
But the Jazz obviously don't have Shaq. And, for that matter, they don't have a dominating player right now - not even Malone, in part because of the suffocating defensive pressure the gangly, athletic 6-foot-7 Pippen and his teammates have been applying.
"Scottie has done a lot in terms of relieving some of the pressure off of me," said Jordan. "Defensively, he's the key component for us. He's a recovery. And we give him the authority to do whatever he wants on the defensive end . . . He can disrupt anybody's offense, really. And tonight was a great example of that."