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Over in the Boyz locker room, Nelson's thoughts were mixed. He had enjoyed the up-and-down tempo of the first half (if his Warriors would ever get healthy, that's how they would play), but he also knew it was far from over. The clear advantages the Dream Teamers had, Nelson believed, were experience and composure, particularly in the backcourt. Dumars had been in big games before, but neither Hardaway (who was still not 100% after missing most of the season with a torn anterior cruciate ligament), Price or Smith could match the championship experience of Magic, Michael, Scottie Pippen or even Clyde Drexler.
Nelson's fears were well founded. Daly started a peculiar alignment of Jordan, Pippen, Drexler, Magic and Robinson, which was designed to trap all over the court. Six times in the first five minutes of the third period, the Dream Teamers converted steals into baskets and, having successfully turned the game into a defensive battle, finally tied the score at 86 as the third period ended.
Nelson decided to play his two young centers, O'Neal and Mourning, together and try to control the action from inside. At one point O'Neal, who had made no bones about his lack of respect for Malone, went up hard on defense and knocked over the Mailman on his way to the basket, then stood above him with a menacing look on his face until Barkley muscled his way in. O'Donnell immediately separated the combatants. A minute later Mourning took a pass from Price on the wing and threw down a jam over Ewing that could have been heard back in Georgetown.
"Get 'em back, Patrick!" Bird yelled from his back-resting position on the floor in front of the Dream Team bench. "Throw it to Patrick, Magic, and let him get it back." So the Dreamers ran a clear-out for Ewing, and he hit a short turnaround over Mourning. Bird jumped to his feet and waved a towel. With seven minutes left it was 97-97.
Nelson, searching for a rotation throughout the game, finally settled on one. He put Shaq in the middle, Mourning and Johnson at forward, and Dumars and Danny Manning (the last player added to the team) in the backcourt. Nelson felt that Price and Hardaway were too small to check Magic and Michael, and he felt uncomfortable handing the ball to the erratic Smith down the stretch. So, just as in the good old days of Chicago-Detroit, there was Dumars guarding Jordan, leaving the 6'10" Manning to stare into Magic's eyes. Daly, meanwhile, mixed and matched lineups, keeping only Jordan on the floor all the time. "I didn't know who I'd need when push came to shove," Daly would say later, "so I didn't want anybody to get cold." With 18 seconds left and Dream Team up 122-121, the Boyz went inside to Shaq. He whirled, ignored a double team by Drexler and Robinson, and dunked a split second before Jordan came from the opposite side trying to block. The Boyz went up 123-122. One possession for Dream Team to win it or lose it. They called timeout.
On the Boyz sideline, Nelson figured that Magic would get the inbounds pass, kill time with the dribble and finally look for Jordan, who would run off a pick inside. So Nellie took Johnson and O'Neal out—"If Michael even comes close to Shaq, they'll call a foul," he whispered to assistant Don Chaney—and sent in Manning, Dumars, Smith, Majerle and Mourning. "If we get caught in a switch, any of them can play Michael," he said. Daly went with Jordan, Magic, Barkley, Ewing and Chris Mullin, clutch shooters all. When he saw the defense, Daly considered calling timeout and going inside to Barkley or Ewing but decided that if the play had to be changed, Magic could do it.
As Nelson predicted, Magic caught Mullin's inbounds pass and began a yo-yo dribble. With nine seconds left, Jordan, with Dumars practically inside his shirt, headed for a double-pick set near the baseline by Barkley and Mullin. As Jordan passed by, Barkley broke off and came toward the foul line, and Jordan continued to the corner, Dumars a step behind. Magic's eyes followed Jordan all the way, and he pump-faked toward him as the clock showed six seconds.
On the other side of the court, meanwhile, Mullin bounced out to the left corner. His defender, Majerle, had edged toward the middle to help out on Barkley in case the pass went there, and his eyes, like everyone else's, were on Jordan.
"Omigod!" Nelson said, grabbing assistant Pete Gillen. "He's going to Chris."
Sure enough, Magic turned from Jordan and whipped a bullet to Mullin, who was nearly alone in the corner. Mullin caught it with four seconds left, took two pitty-pat steps and let fly an effortless lefthanded flick-jumper with three ticks on the clock. Nothing but net. Dream Team 124, Boyz II Men 123.