CHICAGO — CHICAGO -- Marshmallows and cream puffs seem a million years ago.
It's fists and forearms now.
The Eastern Conference finals have degenerated into a battle no one expected between two teams better known for their basketball than for their imitation of the World Wrestling Federation.
Yet here we are, and if the Cavaliers can come back from the 3-2 deficit they face as a result of last night's 112-89 drubbing in Chicago Stadium something beautiful can come from something ugly.
And that's what it was -- ugly.
Even Michael Jordan was ashamed of what happened with 1:08 left in a fourth quarter that already had proved disastrous for the Cavs.
He had left the game with 37 points and did not see Stacey King attempt to guillotine Danny Ferry's head from his shoulders.
This was payback.
Pure. Simple. Ugly.
King called it "just a hard foul."
King is a liar.
He went for Ferry's throat.
Earlier yesterday, the NBA had fined Ferry $5,000 for swinging at Jordan during Game 4 in Cleveland.
Now, the war has escalated and the Bulls, who complained about the New York Knicks' thuggery during their semifinal series, have stooped to the same play.
"We don't," Jordan said, "want to be known as a return-favor type of team.
"We were not out for revenge on Danny Ferry."
Someone forgot to tell King.
Ferry, who scored eight points on a night when the Cavaliers got virtually nothing from the Big Three on their front line -- injured Brad Daugherty (five), John "Hot Rod" Williams (six) and Larry Nance (nine) -- had been booed from the moment he stepped on the court.
People screamed obscenities at him.
King did more than talk.
"I wasn't expecting anything like that response," Ferry said.
"What I had done with Michael wasn't intentional. I'm just a little hotheaded."
Any jury in America, save the one in Simi Valley, Calif., that let the cops walk after they beat Rodney King, would put Stacey King away.
"He didn't hurt me," Ferry said.
But he did deck Ferry, and a second later, 6-foot-3 guard Steve Kerr went after 6-11 King.
"You can't," Kerr said, "let them get away with something like that. That could have ended Danny's career."
Benches emptied, and no more violence erupted before security guards in yellow jackets led King away as they smiled and congratulated him.
Guess who provides security at Chicago Stadium?
Chicago's finest. Off-duty cops.
It was just another part of the ugliness.
The only beauty on the court during this inglorious conclusion was Kerr's standing up for the man with whom he has spent so many hours practicing, each trying to raise the level of their games.
"[King] probably could have picked me up and stuffed me in a trash can," Kerr said. "But that foul was bush league. You have to stand up for your own."
"It's something," Ferry said, "I won't forget."
It's something none of the Cavaliers can forget if they're going to get back into this series tomorrow night in Richfield, Ohio.
"We shouldn't need that for a lift," Ferry said. "Game 6 at home should be enough."
Nevertheless, anything that draws a close team even closer cannot hurt.
The Cavs may need an inspired effort from Ferry and other unexpected sources.
Daugherty hyperextended the middle finger of his shooting hand early in the game and had to play with it taped. He made one of 10 shots, which didn't allow him to provide the kind of help that Mark Price (24 points before injuring his left ankle) needed.