The Chicago Bulls rebounded in Game 2 of the NBA Finals Friday. And because they did, their best-of-seven series with the Utah Jazz is knotted at one-game all.
Thanks to six offensive rebounds that produced eight points in the fourth quarter, the Bulls left the Delta Center with a 93-88 victory.Michael Jordan, who finished with a game-high 37 points, said the difference between Game 1 and Game 2 was fourth-quarter execution and defense.
"I think it was better overall play," Jordan said while reeling off things the Bulls were successful doing. "And I think we pounded the boards very well."
Chicago can claim its third consecutive and sixth overall league championship with victories Sunday, Wednesday and Friday at the United Center. Games 6 and 7, if necessary, will take place in Salt Lake City.
The Bulls, who avoided a 2-0 hole that has seen only the 1969 Boston Celtics and 1977 Portland Trail Blazers come back from in the championship round, almost fell victim to one of basketball's oldest on-court lessons.
To Chicago's defense, however, it wasn't exactly a textbook example of "live by the three, die by the three."
The twist? Only half of the metaphor can be traced to shots beyond the 3-point arc. Utah made three of them in the third quarter to erase a deficit that had grown to eight points. The Jazz, who missed all eight of their long-range attempts in Game 1, wound up making seven to climb back into contention.
The Bulls used a 3-point attack of their own in building a 50-46 halftime lead. Point production over the first 15 minutes and 45 seconds came in 1-2-3 fashion, as in Jordan, Scottie Pippen and Toni Kukoc.
It wasn't until Luc Longley made it 31-28 with a layup in the second quarter that someone other than the trio scored for Chicago. In fact, it took quite a while for the Bulls to obtain any additional contributions of significance.
Once they came, though, it made all the difference in the world.
Dennis Rodman played 11 minutes in the first half, but he didn't bring his game with him until it really mattered. The NBA's rebounding champion failed to grab a single board before the intermission. After the break, however, Rodman helped put the clamps on Jazz star Karl Malone, who finished with 16 points; pulled down nine rebounds (five offensive); and recorded two steals. He even made a 17-foot jumper to pull the Bulls even midway through the decisive fourth period.
"When (the officials) let me play I can play Karl Malone any day of the week. When they call those touchy fouls I can't get in my groove," Rodman said. "I was out of sync in the first half, but in the second half I came out and started to play basketball."
The effort became contagious as Chicago went about snapping its four-game road losing streak in the playoffs. In the process, the Bulls put an end to a Jazz run of 60 games in which they prevailed after taking a lead into the fourth quarter.
The final 12 minutes have been a nightmare for Utah in this series. Over the first two games, the Bulls have held the Jazz to an average of 13.5 points in the fourth quarter. The statistic may put to rest any talk that the Bulls entered the series fatigued after their seven-game Eastern Conference showdown with Indiana.
And now, it seems, reports of Chicago's demise were premature. Jordan told folks wishing to write the Bulls off to go ahead and do so after Game 1. He and his teammates, however, weren't ready to give up what was theirs to defend.
The series, said coach Phil Jackson, is far from over.
"The first game was an overtime game, this game was nip and tuck right down to the final buzzer," he said. "These are two teams well matched and that have played a lot of games against each other. This is going to be some series."
Thus far, who could argue?