CHICAGO -- It was an opportunity for the New York Knicks to make a statement, a chance to end a dynasty and slam the door on a building where they've had little playoff success.
But the three-time defending champion Chicago Bulls, facing elimination in the playoffs for the first time in two years, had other plans. The Bulls came through with their most balanced effort of the playoffs and out-hustled the Knicks in a 93-79 win before 18,676 at Chicago Stadium last night.
So after a series of pushing, shoving, clawing, after six games decided by clutch shots and controversial calls, it all comes down to Game 7 tomorrow at Madison Square Garden to see xTC which team will face the Indiana Pacers in the Eastern Conference finals.
"It sets up a very interesting scenario," Bulls coach Phil Jackson said. "Having played there three times, having felt confident on that court, we feel we have a great chance to do something we've looked forward to for the last three weeks."
For the Bulls, it was the ninth straight home playoff win against the Knicks, and 15th in the past 16 home playoff games against them.
Chicago Stadium is due a date with the wrecker's ball as soon as the Bulls' season is over, and the Bulls are hoping to treat the home fans to at least another round.
"The emotion, the adrenalin of [tomorrow's] game will be very high," said Chicago guard B.J. Armstrong, whose 20 points led the Bulls. "The energy will carry through the home-court advantage the Knicks think they might have. It should be a great game."
The Knicks, thoroughly outplayed throughout the series, had to go home last night thinking how they could possibly come up flat in their biggest game of the year.
With a chance to advance, New York instead was caught flat-footed throughout the night as it allowed Chicago to grab 19 offensive rebounds -- which resulted in repeated second-chance scores.
"Chicago played with more energy and more hustle than we did," said Knicks guard Derek Harper. "They got a lot of second shots, which is hustle. They got a lot of loose balls, which is hustle. You just can't allow that."
With Harper back in the lineup after a two-game suspension (he was booed loudly when he checked into the game in the first quarter), the Knicks had hoped to get a better offensive flow. Instead they wound up with their poorest shooting percentage of the series (37.3 percent).
Four New York players scored in double figures, led by Patrick Ewing (26 points) and John Starks (18), but the Knicks were never in any type of flow as they were forced to play catch-up the entire night. Chicago led by 13 at the end of the first period, and by as many as 19 in the first half.
"We just didn't play well; it just wasn't there," said New York forward Charles Oakley, who had 10 points and seven rebounds. "I don't know what's wrong with us . . . . We didn't give our best effort."
Chicago, despite shooting only 39.8 percent, did give its best effort. Scottie Pippen's 13 points came on 5-for-16 shooting from the field, but he did grab 11 rebounds (five offensive) and hand out five assists.
He also provided what is clearly the highlight of the series, emphatically slamming the ball in the face of Patrick Ewing midway through the third quarter to give the Bulls a 17-point lead.
Horace Grant's 16 points came on 6-for-14 shooting, but he grabbed 12 rebounds and seemed to come up with every loose ball.
The Bulls' emotion -- and a stingy defense -- limited the Knicks to their fewest points of the series. New York failed to score at least 20 points in three of the four quarters, making it eight of 24 quarters they've been under 20 in the series.
"We were real fired up, but not on the court," said Ewing, who was bumped by Longley and Cartwright all night.
Ewing led a brief comeback after the facial by Pippen with 6:00 left in the third. Pippen glared at Ewing after the dunk, which gave the Bulls a 66-49 lead.
Pippen also got a technical foul for swatting at Ewing while the Knicks center was on the ground.
But Ewing got mad and even, scoring the last eight of a 10-0 run that had the Knicks within 66-58.
But the Bulls weathered that storm. Staring elimination in the face, they responded with the most decisive game of the series. Now it's on to Game 7, an unlikely prospect when New York led 2-0.
It should be intense.
"We'll have to play smarter, and step up Sunday," Oakley said. "Our crowd can't do it. We will have to get it done."