Suffering through a horrid shooting night, Jordan emerged during the last five minutes of the fourth quarter at Chicago Stadium to lead the NBA champion Bulls to a 104-99 victory.
Jordan made four straight jumpers to ruin what had the makings of Washington's third straight victory. He finished with 25 points on 9-of-27 shooting.
The loss marred an otherwise spectacular night for LaBradford Smith. The second-year guard from Louisville made 15 of 20 shots for a career-high 37 points, but didn't take a shot the last 5:18 of the game, with Jordan tightening the reins.
"When the game was on the line, he showed why he's a superstar," said Smith, whose torrid shooting helped the Bullets build a 12-point lead in the second quarter and helped them withstand several runs by the Bulls until Jordan's fourth-quarter run. "He hit big shots and played great defense."
Asked why Smith got only one shot off in the final quarter, Bullets coach Wes Unseld said: "Partly it was our inability to get him the ball, and partly it was his inability to get open. Michael did a great job of overplaying him."
Yet despite Jordan's catching fire and Smith's flame being extinguished, the Bullets managed to stay in the game until the final minute, when Harvey Grant got bottled up along the sideline on a mix-up and was called for stepping on the end line with 37.5 seconds left and then when Tom Gugliotta fired an air ball with 17 seconds left.
In between, Scottie Pippen (20 points) made a 17-footer with 20.6 seconds left to give the Bulls a 103-99 lead and, after Gugliotta's air ball, Rodney McCray made one of two free throws with 14.8 seconds left. After a timeout, just-activated Rex Chapman took his only shot of the game -- a three-pointer -- and missed everything.
"I thought the same thing plagued us against Chicago that does against any of the others," said Unseld, whose team gets a chance for quick reclamation against the Bulls when the Bullets play host to Chicago tonight at the Capital Centre. "We have to have someone with the ability to step up and make the big shot when we need it. Tonight again we didn't get it."
What they got instead was three quarters of unbelievable shooting by Smith and one quarter -- actually about five minutes -- of Jordan. After a 42-30 lead disappeared, with the Bulls taking the lead at 68-67 four minutes into the third quarter, the Bullets showed some resilience. They built their lead back to seven, 78-71, with 3:18 to go in the quarter.
But along came Mr. Jordan, and there went Mr. Smith. Starting with a three-point play that gave Chicago a 92-90 lead with a little less than five minutes left, Jordan made four straight jumpers and five of six, most of them coming from 15 to 18 feet. Still, the Bulls couldn't quite run away from the Bullets.
"That game was much more interesting than we thought or expected," said Bulls coach Phil Jackson, who shouldn't have considering the way his 44-20 team has struggled at times this season and was playing last night without forward Horace Grant (strep throat). "The game by LaBradford Smith was a jewel. Our team was down in the fog. Our energy level was low and as a consequence it was a good win."
NOTES: The Bullets reactivated Chapman, who had been out for a month with a sprained ankle, and cleared a spot on the roster by not re-signing Larry Robinson after his 10-day contract expired.