CHICAGO -- Phoenix Suns rookie coach Paul Westphal received abundant praise for his team's three-overtime victory against the Chicago Bulls Sunday night. He changed all of his defensive assignments after consecutive home losses to the defending NBA champions.
"Paul was just like a baseball manager who changes his batting NBA Finals notebook
order, trying to shake thing up," said reserve guard Danny Ainge. "And this time it worked."
Calling it his "rope-a-dope defense", he also put a much smaller Charles Barkley on 7-foot-1 Bulls center Bill Cartwright; center Mark West on power forward Horace Grant; small forward Richard Dumas on point guard B. J. Armstrong; and Dan Majerle on Scottie Pippen, perhaps the only even matchup in terms of size.
"I liked what he did," said Suns backup guard Frank Johnson. "Barkley's elbow was hurting, and he had an easier time defending Cartwright than Grant. And Majerle [who scored 28 points] was fresher not having to chase Jordan around."
Someone suggested Westphal simply used a psychological ploy throw the Bulls' offense out of sync, baiting Jordan to go one-on-one against his smaller defender. Jordan took 43 shots, but converted only 19 in scoring 44 points.
"All that psychological stuff is over my head," Westphal said. "Personally, I think matchups are overrated. I know no one player is going to stop Jordan.
"We just tried something different. I'm not saying it didn't work, but I'm not so sure we wouldn't have won if we hadn't changed anything. Players make it work, and all three games so far have been decided in the closing minutes."
Barkley was offering free advice to Jordan, his fellow superstar and close friend off the court.
FTC "Michael has to be more like me, let stuff roll off him, go out and have some fun," Barkley said of Jordan, whose celebrated gambling exploits led to a week of silence during the Eastern Conference finals against the New York Knicks.
"I tell him, 'People who dog you aren't your friends. Just do your own thing.'
"I know I'm not going to spend my life in my house. We play a game, so we should have fun, just like Ali did in boxing.
"Michael should take his security guard and go out. Hey, be like me. Punch a few guys out. Give up $10,000. It's worth it."
Both Pippen, who suffered leg cramps in the 63-minute marathon Sunday, and Barkley, who played 53 minutes with a bandaged right elbow that needed to be drained of fluid, reported feeling better yesterday.
"I'm still kind of sore, but I'll be fine by Wednesday," said Pippen. "Having two days off between games really helped."