On to the Finals
Bulls outlast Pacers in grueling Game 7
Posted: Sunday May 31, 1998 11:12 PM
Air Pippen: Chicago's Scottie Pippen scored 17 points as the Bulls soared to their sixth finals appearance of the '90s (AP)|
CHICAGO (AP) -- This was not the expiration date for the Chicago Bulls. Their dynasty has survived to see another series.
The Bulls made it back to the NBA Finals on Sunday night and kept alive their quest for a sixth championship by outlasting the Indiana Pacers 88-83 in a riveting Game 7 of the Eastern Conference finals.
In a tight, back-and-forth game that culminated two weeks of struggle and drama, the Bulls used their ability to excel in pressure situations to overcome the Pacers' determination and grit.
"We came out a little tense, a little nervous, but came back in the ballgame and we knew we were in a fight," Chicago's Michael Jordan said. "A lot of people say we sit back and wait for me but today everybody had to step forward and do it. Steve Kerr and Luc [Longley] and [Toni] Kukoc stepped up and did it."
It all came down to the final five minutes, and Jordan and his teammates displayed intensity and control as they came up with all the clutch plays.
The Bulls scored nine of the game's final 13 points and watched the Pacers fail to find ways to match them as they moved on to a date with the Utah Jazz beginning Wednesday night.
"Utah is back there waiting for us and they have the home court and it'll be even tougher," Jordan said. "A day off will gives us a chance to clear our minds and focus."
Chicago will be playing for its sixth championship this decade, and perhaps to somehow keep their dynasty intact -- quite an accomplishment for a team that was greeted on its home court Sunday by a mood of desperation and finality.
Slow start, big finish: Jordan scored 26 of his 28 points after the first quarter (AP)||
In this city where fans have become spoiled by the routineness of titles and the greatness of Jordan, there was a strange feeling surrounding this game.
Could this really be the end of the run, the "Last Dance" as coach Phil Jackson keeps calling it?
It might have been, if not for the way Chicago played at the end.
The game was tied 79-79 going into the final five minutes, and that's when the Bulls showed exactly how valuable five years of championship run experience can be.
Scottie Pippen scored on a jumper after grabbing one of Chicago's 22 offensive rebounds, and Jordan drew a double-team and fed Luc Longley for a corner jumper while the Pacers were committing three turnovers and missing a shot.
A putback by Antonio Davis made it 85-83 with 2:12 left, but Pippen came right back with a running hook shot with 1:59 left -- although he missed a chance to convert a three-point play.
Mark Jackson threw away a pass on Indiana's next possession -- one of 13 miscues by the Pacers. The Bulls would miss their next two shots, running the clock inside of 30 seconds as they retained possession with another offensive rebound.
Still trailing by four, Derrick McKey took the first open shot presented to the Pacers and missed a wide-open jumper. Jordan rebounded, the Pacers fouled Ron Harper and his free throw with 8.9 seconds left completed the scoring.
Clutch Kukoc: Toni Kukoc hit 3-of-4 from beyond the arc, scoring 14 third-quarter points (AP)|
Jordan, who struggled mightily with his shooting accuracy at times, still finished with 28 points, nine rebounds, eight assists and two steals.
Toni Kukoc contributed 21 points, including 14 in the third quarter when no one else was producing, and Pippen had 17 points, 12 rebounds, three assists and two steals.
"I felt the shot in the third and every time I got the ball, all I needed was a little time to get it off," Kukoc said. "They started the game posting me up and I had to take advantage of the outside. It worked for them early, for us in the third quarter."
Reggie Miller led Indiana with 22 points, but he was nowhere to be found late in the fourth quarter as Jordan guarded him tightly.
"We got in early foul trouble and that threw us behind the eight-ball," Indiana coach Larry Bird said. "We had them right where we wanted them. They're good enough to beat Chicago. I knew that all year long. I knew we were going to a Game 7."
The key statistical difference was rebounding, as Chicago grabbed 50 to Indiana's 34. On the offensive end, it was 22-4 in favor of the Bulls.
Both teams struggled from the foul line, the Pacers shooting 23-for-37 (62 percent) and the Bulls making only 24 of 41 (58 percent).
Chalk that latter stat up to Game 7 jitters, which seemed to have more of an effect at the end on the Pacers than it did on the Bulls -- even though Chicago was playing in only its third Game 7 of the decade and Indiana was experiencing its third in five years.
Board meeting: Dale Davis (left) outrebounded Rodman 10-6, but the Bulls' killed the Pacers on the offensive glass, 22-4 (AP)||
In fact, the Pacers didn't look nervous at all right from the outset.
The United Center was strangely quiet just a couple minutes into the first quarter, a mood of apprehension so strong it was eerie.
The collective state of disbelief only grew worse as the Pacers were hitting their first eight shots of the game in opening a 20-7 lead en route to a 27-19 advantage after one period.
Jordan surpassed Kareem Abdul-Jabbar's career playoff scoring record of 5,762 points early in the second quarter with two baskets. Jordan also had an assist on Steve Kerr's 3-pointer in a 7-0 run that tied it 28-all.
The Bulls also tightened their defense in the second quarter, whether it was Jordan gluing himself to Miller or Pippen swooping down to double-team any time Indiana got the ball in the low post. The result was Indiana missing eight of its first 10 shots in the quarter to fall behind 40-33.
Chicago also was killing the Pacers on the offensive boards. When Ron Harper tipped in a miss with one minute left, the Bulls had a 13-1 edge in offensive rebounds and led 46-39.
Miller then hit two 3-pointers in the final 30 seconds to help Indiana pull to 48-45 at halftime.
Kukoc hit four straight jumpers, including two 3-pointers, early in the third, then drew center Rik Smits' fourth foul with just under five minutes left and hit another 3-pointer with 2:40 left for a 68-61 lead. But Indiana came back and Jalen Rose scored the first four points of the fourth quarter to make it 69-69.
Notes: This was the 76th Game 7 in NBA history. Home teams entered with a 62-13 record, a winning percentage of 82.6. Indiana was attempting to become the fourth team to win a Game 7 on the road after losing the first two games of the series. ... The Pacers committed 62 turnovers in their four losses, 31 in their three wins. ... Jud Buechler and Kerr played more than they had in the previous six games. Kerr hit a couple of key 3-pointers and had 11 points, while Buechler had five rebounds in 11 minutes. ... Several players were in foul trouble all game long, but Antonio Davis was the only one to foul out. Five players finished with five fouls.