CHICAGO -- Whiners or winners?
The Chicago Bulls have been called both this season, though lately the former characterization has been tossed around considerably more than the latter.
However, one thing is certain, Horace Grant said as the Bulls and the New York Knicks head into tonight's Game 5 of this rough-and-tumble best-of-seven Eastern Conference semifinals tied at two games.
"The Bulls' whole team has to look within ourselves, get a little meaner, a little more aggressive, and take it to them," Grant said yesterday.
Fighting fire with fire is the new catch phrase in the Bulls' camp, though coach Phil Jackson insists he is still stressing composure over retaliation.
"You just can't be concerned where the blow is coming from," said Jackson, sounding suspiciously like a football or hockey coach. "You have to deliver the first one. In this series, that's what it's basically about."
John Paxson offered another example: "It's not necessarily a matter of going out and throwing bodies around. It's just a matter of standing your ground and maybe taking a guy like Charles Oakley on a little bit tougher. If he's going to throw you down one time, then maybe you have to get up and throw him down once."
Jackson's frustration at the Knicks' physical tactics, and his perception of the officials' loose treatment of them, came to a head in Game 4 on Sunday.
New York's seven-point victory in Madison Square Garden ended with the Bulls coach in the dressing room, having been ejected at the end of the third quarter. It culminated with postgame comments by Jackson that the Knicks, particularly coach Pat Riley, did not take kindly.
The war of words continued yesterday as Riley lashed out at Jackson's criticism of the officiating.
"What he's doing is insulting us, basically," Riley said. "I was part of six championship teams. I've been to the finals 13 times. I know what championship demeanor is all about. The fact that he's whining and whimpering about officiating is an insult to how hard our guys are playing and how much our guys want to win.
"That's what championship teams are about. They've got to take on all comers. They can't whine about it."
Jackson seemed slightly taken aback by Riley's comments but righted himself in time for a response.
"It seems to me that four to five years ago, Pat Riley was talking about the L.A. style of ball that was very clean and finesse-oriented and [complaining] about Detroit and Boston, so I don't know," Jackson said. "I think you coach what you've got for players, and I know he's doing a good job."
Earlier, Jackson characterized the type of players he saw facing off in this series: "When you have plowhorses, you plow. When you've got thoroughbreds, you run the race."
Jackson, he of the thoroughbred team, does concede that the Bulls need to improve in one or two areas, namely rebounding -- where they were pummeled 52-33 Sunday, 174-139 for the series -- and in picking up loose balls.
"The biggest difference between playing the Knicks and the Pistons is they're coming up with the loose balls that we can't get our hands on," said Bulls guard Michael Jordan. "Or if we do get our hands on them, we can't grab them. That's the difference in the ballgame."
So was free-throw shooting after the Bulls failed from the line 12 times in Game 4.
Jackson was decidedly disappointed at the Bulls' fall Sunday as they allowed the Knicks to make their biggest push with Patrick Ewing on the bench with four fouls.
"We anticipated the series would be very physical and excruciating, and I projected it as possibly going seven games," Jackson said. "But I never imagined that once we gained momentum, we'd let it slide like we did yesterday."
Jordan reassured Chicago fans yesterday, saying, "We'll be all right."
Jackson, who insinuated Sunday that the league has had something to do with this series-that-will-not-die, produced still another zinger.
Is all of this somehow being orchestrated, he was asked?
"I think they're probably licking their chops on Fifth Avenue where the NBA offices are," he said. "I think they kind of like that it's a 2-2 series. I don't like 'orchestration.' . . . It sounds a little too fishy. . . But they control who they send as referees.
"And if it goes seven, everybody will be really happy. Everybody will get the TV revenues and ratings they want."