NEW YORK -- This isn't just about Michael Jordan. This is about a team fading from glory, a team scraping for every shot, every rebound, every last basketball morsel.
The Chicago Bulls won't be the two-time defending NBA champions much longer. Forgive the expression, but the New York Knicks won't let them up for Air.
Jordan scored 36 points last night, but it hardly mattered. He missed 20 of his 32 shots. His supporting cast disappeared. The Bulls went down, 96-91.
Scottie Pippen? Ejected with 7:34 left. Horace Grant? Two points, one rebound. Bill Cartwright? Three missed foul shots in the final minute.
The Bulls cut a 14-point deficit to two with 15.3 seconds left, but in the end, the game belonged to Patrick Ewing and Charles Oakley, Doc Rivers and the wondrous John Starks.
Ewing finished with a team-high 26 points, Oakley a game-high 16 rebounds. Rivers scored 21 points, and Starks produced another mammoth effort against Jordan.
Madison Square Garden rocked.
The implications were enormous.
The Knicks lead two games to none with the series heading to Chicago. They've now won 27 straight games at the Garden, six straight at home against the Bulls.
Chicago can't reach the NBA finals without ending those streaks, but it's hard to envision that happening. Even Jordan is mortal in New York. The Knicks just wear him down.
Everyone expected this to be his night, his stage, his world. But for the second straight game he floundered, trying to do too much against a defense that suffocates him.
He's now 22-for-59 (37 percent) in the series -- 8-for-29 (28 percent) in the second half. People keep asking about his sore right wrist, but Jordan insists that isn't the problem.
"I would love to use that as an excuse," he said. "The wrist isn't bothering me. I am going to take the shots. I will continue to take the shots."
Right now, though, Starks is the star of this show. The defining moment of this series came with 47.3 seconds left, when he beat B. J. Armstrong to the baseline and soared over Jordan and Grant for an electrifying dunk.
The Bulls had stormed back without Pippen and backup center Scott Williams, but Starks' dunk pushed the lead back to five. "It motivated him," Jordan said, "and energized the crowd."
"It was a tremendous shot," Rivers said. "I didn't think he had a chance. I haven't seen many dunks like that in my life. It will make all the highlight films."
It was a Jordan type of play, only it wasn't made by Jordan. He scored 25 points in the first half last night, but even then, he was missing, and the Bulls were struggling.
"We anticipated he was going to have his kind of game, but the positive thing about it was, it was tied at halftime," Knicks coach Pat Riley said. "We weathered the storm."
So now Michael Miracle is Michael Mortal, but this isn't nearly his fault. The Bulls have been out-rebounded 80-51 in the series. They have no one to handle Ewing and Oakley.
Grant said: "I blame myself for this game," but he's playing with injuries to his ankle and Achilles'. Williams tried to help inside, but fouled out with 4:34 left.
Then there was Pippen, who got himself ejected for throwing the ball at referee Bill Oakes' chest. Pippen had just been called for a double-dribble. At the time, the Bulls trailed by 12.
"I think that the fans made him make the call in the first place, and I feel they made him call the ejection," Pippen said. "Obviously, I wanted to be in the game."
Hey, it's the playoffs.
Pippen was bound to disappear.
Of course, it wasn't just him. All five Knicks starters finished in double figures. The three Bulls starters besides Jordan and Pippen combined for only 15 points.
"I'm very concerned," Bulls coach Phil Jackson said. "We've got to win a basketball game. They're playing their style on their floor. They will not play that style on our floor."
Jordan acknowledged after Game 1 that he has been "a little more hyper than I want" against the Knicks. But in the cauldron of this tough, brutal series, it's difficult for him to calm down.
"I don't think it would serve a purpose for the team for me to come out and try to avenge what I didn't do in the first game," he said beforehand. "We have to do it collectively."
Now, he has two games to avenge.
Collectively, it isn't happening.