CHICAGO -- Michael Jordan knew he might have to do it by himself, just as he had in the old days. And he delivered.
With Patrick Ewing in foul trouble virtually from the start, Jordan scored 26 of his game-high 37 points in the second half to lift the Chicago Bulls to a 96-88 victory over the New York Knicks last night, giving them a 3-2 lead in the Eastern Conference semifinal playoff series.
Bulls coach Phil Jackson said the crowd helped the Bulls "come out on fire. The energy of the crowd kept us going. We got a big effort from Michael, he stepped it up."
Ewing fouled out with 3:33 left after scoring just 14, his low in 10 playoff games this year. Ewing fouled Scottie Pippen on a drive to the basket, and Pippen made both free throws to give the Bulls an 85-78 lead.
The Bulls can wrap up the best-of-seven series tomorrow night at Madison Square Garden.
The Knicks trailed, 89-82, when Jordan hit a driving layup with 2:14 left. But Xavier McDaniel, who scored 26 points, made a three-pointer from the top of the key and John Starks hit one of two free throws with 1:25 left to cut the lead to 89-86. The Knicks had a chance to tie, but after Gerald Wilkins stole the ball from Jordan, McDaniel missed a 20-footer and Jordan converted a three-point play on the other end to seal the victory.
The Knicks stayed within striking distance in the third quarter even though they got almost no offensive production out of Ewing until the final three minutes. Ewing hit his first point of the second half on a free throw to draw the Knicks within 67-61, but he hit a fast-break layup and an 18-footer in the final 1:13 to cut the deficit to 71-67 entering the final quarter.
Jordan, who suffered second-half slumps in the last three games, scored 13 points in the third quarter and John Paxson added seven.
Jordan called it one of the more physical games of a physical series.
"We got some of the calls tonight and we deserved them," he said. "We finally knocked down some free throws."