Jordan, Armstrong lead Bulls, 111-105 Michael scores 55 for 3-1 series lead


CHICAGO -- Michael Jordan scored 55 points, including a three-point play with 13.3 seconds left, to give the Bulls a 111-105 victory last night over the Phoenix Suns in Game 4 and a 3-1 lead in the best-of-seven NBA Finals.

B. J. Armstrong made the key defensive play of the game, stealing the ball with 33.4 seconds left and the Suns only trailing 106-104.

Jordan got the ball about eight feet from the basket and hit a spinning, turnaround shot and was fouled by Charles Barkley on the play, giving the Bulls a five-point lead.

Chicago can clinch its third straight NBA title tomorrow night.

The Bulls came into the game looking to strike a balance between Jordan carrying the team and having his less-celebrated teammates share the load. Jordan took 43 shots in Sunday's triple-overtime loss that gave the Suns, who had lost the first two games at home, renewed hope.

"It's a very delicate balance," conceded assistant coach Tex Winter.

"It's a thing we continually work with because we want isolation for Michael in certain parts of our offense. But we don't want Michael or Scottie [Pippen] to feel they're going to go out and take over the game on a 1-on-1 basis, because our idea is a team concept. We want to involve all five players."

Added Jordan: "It's like a Catch-22 situation. Sometimes, the other guys sit back to see if I can carry it whenever they can't seem to knock their shots down. The next thing you know, it's totally out of the realm of our system. It may look like I'm trying too hard, but I have to feed off how the other guys approach the game."

Paul Westphal, who caught the Bulls off-balance in Game 3 by playing point guard Kevin Johnson on Jordan, this time assigned the task to rookie small forward Richard Dumas.

This strategy also worked to the Suns' advantage in the opening minutes as Dumas scored three quick baskets to provide his team with an 8-4 lead.

The Suns were beating the Bulls in transition, but Pippen got in the spirit of things and scored consecutive layups to give the Bulls a 12-10 edge.

At this point, Westphal switched Johnson back on Jordan, but the Bulls were now playing at a blistering pace. A flying tip-in by Horace Grant and Armstrong's fast-break layup boosted the margin to 16-10.

Chicago then got careless with its ball-handling, and Phoenix capitalized with three easy hoops to close to 18-16. Bulls fans applauded in derision when Jordan was awarded two foul shots. The home team had drawn only nine fouls in Sunday's 63-minute marathon.

Phil Jackson then ordered the Bulls into a trapping defense. It produced a short jumper by Jordan and a breakaway slam by Pippen for a 23-16 cushion.

Barkley, playing without a bandage to protect his sore right elbow, was all but invisible in the Suns' offense the first 10 minutes. But the ball finally found its way to the Suns' superstar, who made two straight shots to close to 27-25.

Following another dunk by Pippen, Armstrong engaged in a brief scuffle with Johnson and was whistled for a flagrant foul. Two free throws by Johnson made it 31-27 after one quarter. The Bulls shot 62 percent (15-for-24) in the period. The Suns, led by Dumas' 10 points, were 11-for-21 for 51 percent from the field.

Jackson went to his bench at the start of the second quarter, playing Jordan with four reserves. The Suns pulled even at 31 on an uncontested layup by Danny Ainge.

Jordan then got serious. He scored 10 points in a two-minute span, giving his team a 41-35 lead. But the Suns refused to wilt. Dumas used his athleticism to beat his defenders to the hoop for a three-point play, pulling Phoenix within a field goal.

At the midway point of the second quarter, Jordan had accounted for all the Bulls points in the period -- 16 -- and increased his total to 27. A three-point shot by John Paxson ended the run, and Grant added a layup to give Chicago its biggest lead, 52-43.

With Jordan resting, the Suns trimmed the deficit to 55-53 on consecutive three-point shots by Majerle. Jackson rushed Jordan back into the game, and he responded with a jump shot and swooping slam dunk.

With six seconds left, Jordan hit a jumper, but Majerle, with Jordan on top of him, made his third three and drew a foul. He missed the free throw, leaving Chicago with a 61-58 halftime edge. Jordan had 33 points at the break.

Chicago again gained some breathing room at the start of the second half. After a Barkley layup, the Bulls ran off eight straight points for a 68-60 bulge. A layup by Dumas snapped this streak.

The margin grew to 10 points, 72-62, on Jordan's three-point play. The Suns then began posting up Barkley, who drew fouls by bulling his way to the basket and used the line to close to 77-71.

But Jordan found Grant alone under the hoop and then followed with a jumper and a pair of free throws for 83-71. At this point, he had 43 points.

The Suns kept scratching back. Four free throws by Barkley and jump shots by Frank Johnson and two hoops by Kevin Johnson sliced the deficit to 86-81 after three quarters.

The capacity crowd began to exhibit signs of anxiety when Phoenix opened the fourth quarter with an acrobatic jump shot by Frank Johnson and two foul shots by Mark West to pull within three points. But the Bulls answered with a corner jumper by Jordan and a three by Paxson for a 91-85 lead.

With the score 91-87 and 8:34 left, West exited with his sixth foul. Kevin Johnson had a chance to draw the Suns within a field goal, but missed a layup. Jordan countered with a drive down the lane for 91-85.

With 4:22 remaining, the Suns were still breathing down the Bulls' necks, trailing 97-94. Jordan bailed his team out again with a swooping layup and free throw. On Chicago's next possession, Armstrong swished a baseline jumper for an eight-point cushion.

Again, the Suns fought back. Kevin Johnson made consecutive hoops for 102 -98. After a dubious call on what looked like a traveling violation by Jordan, Ainge and Jordan got in a wrestling match. Ainge drew a foul and both were charged with technicals. Jordan converted both free throws.

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