SATURDAY, MAY 10
The series shifts to Atlanta with the Hawks in position to put a scare into the Bulls. "There are two situations where you have to be especially careful with Michael," says Wilkens. "When he thinks he has you in trouble, and when you think you have him in trouble."
Smith is braced for an early flurry from Jordan, but he's not worried, as some of his teammates are, that guarding Jordan will ultimately take its toll on Smith's offense. He scored 19 points in Game 1 and 27 in Game 2. "Guarding Michael is easy—wait, I don't mean easy, don't say that," he says. "I mean in some ways you don't get as tired as you do guarding other players. Somebody like Reggie Miller will run you back and forth across the floor through a million picks on every possession. But Michael doesn't waste much motion, he doesn't play with you. When he doesn't have the ball, he doesn't do much, except wait for an opening. When he gets the ball, he lets you get set. then he does what he's going to do. It usually won't be more than a couple of dribbles. So you don't get especially worn out guarding him."
Smith doesn't have much chance to get tired early in Game 3.1 le picks up his second foul in the first quarter, and he sits down with 8:04 left in the period. But Jordan and the rest of the Bulls have trouble finding offensive consistency in the first half, and they trail 52-46 at intermission. In the second half the Chicago starters continue to struggle offensively. Jordan and Pippen each make only 8 of 20 shots for the game, but reserves Toni Kukoc and Brian Williams combine for 30 points to spark the Bulls to a 100-80 win and a 2-1 series lead.
Afterward, reporters come in waves to Smith's locker, asking about the Hawks' collapse; no one asks about guarding Jordan, who finishes with a quiet 21 points. Someone says that the lack of questions must mean Smith did a good job. "Not good enough to win," he says.
SUNDAY, MAY 11
Through the first three games of the series, the Hawks couldn't be happier about Smith's work on Jordan. "He's only really had one explosive run, in the third quarter of Game 1." says Wilkens. "As great as he is, he has not been the story of this series, which is a credit to Steve."
Still, the Bulls are in position to go up three games to one, and when they take a 75-53 lead with 4.4 seconds left in the third quarter, it's clear Wilkens needs to try something different. He sends in backup point guard Eldridge Recasner to defend Jordan and, after briefly resting Smith, sends him back to guard Pippen. Recasner gives up three inches to Jordan, but the different look seems to catch Jordan by surprise. Recasner hits a pair of threes and helps harass Jordan into a traveling violation as the Hawks stage a furious comeback, getting within 83-80 with just under a minute left. Then Jordan breaks the 1 lawks' heart. He posts up Recasner, draws a foul and makes both free throws. He seals Chicago's 89-80 victory with a steal and a dunk.
In the locker room later Smith is considerably more grim-faced than he had been a week earlier. Seven days of having Jordan on the brain had taken its toll. In another part of the locker room, Recasner was being complimented for his work against Jordan in the fourth quarter. "We just wanted to show him something different," Recasner is saying. "It worked for a little while at least."
Would Recasner like to try his luck against Jordan full time? "I would give it my best if I was asked," he says. "But guarding Jordan for a whole series? I couldn't imagine that."