PORTLAND, Ore. -- Playing with what he termed "controlled anger," Michael Jordan scored 46 points and the enraged Chicago Bulls led from start to finish last night in defeating the Portland Trail Blazers, 119-106, to move within a victory of clinching a second straight NBA title.
The Bulls, leading the best-of-seven series, 3-2, can repeat by winning one of the remaining two games at home tomorrow and Wednesday, if necessary. The odds are definitely in their favor. They have not lost two in a row at Chicago Stadium since April 5 and 7, 1991. Jordan, whose total commitment to winning had been questioned by his two appearances on a Portland golf course this week, put on his game face from the opening tip and never relented in his fierce intensity.
Despite playing on a gimpy left ankle, resulting from a second-quarter collision with a courtside photographer, the Bulls superstar had 27 points at halftime to provide his team with a 66-54 cushion.
"There was no way I was going to leave the game," said Jordan, whose 46 points was a personal best for a championship series. "This game was too crucial to worry about the pain. In the past, I've questioned this team's hunger in defending the championship, but we showed our old arrogance tonight and everyone made a contribution."
Particularly the oft-maligned Scottie Pippen (24 points, 11 rebounds, nine assists), who, along with Jordan, would would not allow the Blazers to repeat their blistering fourth-quarter comebacks that resulted in a pair of dramatic victories in games 2 and 4.
Chicago led by as many as 20 points (82-62) midway in the third quarter and still appeared firmly in control with a 107-89 bulge with six minutes remaining when the Blazers began one of their )) patented rallies.
They kept the crowd of 12,888 in suspense by closing to 110-101 on Danny Ainge's reverse layup with 3:32 left. But this time, the Bulls maintained their poise, and the Blazers' comeback hopes ended when scoring leader Clyde Drexler (30 points, 10 rebounds) fouled out a minute later.
To a man, the Bulls had expressed anger over allowing the Blazers to have put them in such a precarious position. There was even some finger-pointing after the 93-88 loss in Game 4 here Wednesday night, with Pippen branded the principal scapegoat.
But all the pettiness and bickering was quickly brushed aside when Pippen joined Jordan in sponsoring a 20-11 lead in the first seven minutes, making the mistake-prone Blazers play a futile game of catch-up the rest of the night.
Pippen crammed 13 points in the first quarter, making all four of his field-goal attempts while capitalizing on a matchup with Portland's shorter point guard, Terry Porter.
"I really thought Scottie was the big difference for us tonight," said Bulls coach Phil Jackson, looking exhausted after the 2-hour, 43-minute marathon that featured 89 free throws.
"He played extremely well early in the game, let the points come to him, and also directed our offense."
Blazers coach Rick Adelman had seemingly outsmarted Jackson Game 4 by resorting to a quicker, smaller lineup in the pivotal fourth quarter. But this time Adelman may have outsmarted himself in switching Porter on Pippen.
"In that situation, I'm going to try to post him up," said Pippen. "I feel I can get inside to score against him, and that's the way it worked."
But that mismatch was only part of the Blazers' problems. They hurt themselves by committing seven turnovers in the first quarter, resulting in 17 Chicago points.
"The Bulls did what we wanted to, getting off quick and seizing control," said Adelman. "We wanted to put pressure on Pippen, but our other guys didn't pick him up when he went to the basket. But the big thing is you can't keep turning the ball over against a team like the Bulls, who will burn you on the other end."
But, in the final analysis, it was simply too much Jordan.
"Michael was just phenomenal," said Adelman. "He has the ability to shoot the ball from anywhere, any time. He was marvelous."
Added Blazers forward Buck Williams: "Michael showed us tonight how special he is. He just wasn't going to be denied. He took his team on his shoulders and carried them for 48 minutes."
VTC Jordan said he hopes his fatiguing journey will end in Chicago tomorrow night. "We've got to play our butts off and just take care of business so there's no Game 7," he said.