NEW YORK -- It was an incredible performance, even by Michael Jordan's standards. It was a game that at least 100,000 people will probably swear they saw at Madison Square Garden. In the end, Jordan made a remarkable play that gave the Chicago Bulls a victory.
Jordan's pass to Bill Wennington for an uncontested dunk with 3.1 seconds to play last night lifted the Bulls over the Knicks, 113-111. Jordan scored 55 points on 21-for-37 shooting, but it was his pass that won it.
With the score tied at 111 and the final 10 seconds ticking away, Jordan drove into the lane against John Starks, drew New York's defense to him, then spotted Wennington alone underneath the basket. Wennington caught the bullet pass and stuffed the ball through the net.
"I would be lying if I said I wanted to pass the ball," Jordan said of that last play. "I wanted to score, and I was going to make them stop me. On the play before, I thought I had Starks beat and Patrick [Ewing] came over and made the play. This time, I was able to make the pass and he was open."
The Knicks still had one last chance to answer, but it slipped away. Anthony Mason inbounded at midcourt to John Starks, but as he went to make a spin move around Jordan, Starks slipped and lost control of the ball. It trickled beyond midcourt, and when Starks retrieved it he was called for a backcourt violation with 1.3 seconds to play.
When Jordan leaped into the air at midcourt to accept the ensuing inbounds pass, the final buzzer sounded, and the Bulls began to celebrate.
It was almost as if they picked up where they left off during the 1993 playoffs, the last time the Knicks had played against Jordan. Ewing (36 points) carried the Knicks down the stretch and almost carried them back, but just as he has done so many times, Jordan found a way. Is there any team that really wants to play the Bulls in the first round? And unless the Bulls pass the Cleveland Cavaliers, whom Chicago trails by two games, the Knicks will likely see the Bulls in the opening round.
Knicks coach Pat Riley said he wasn't surprised by the performance Jordan put on.
"That's why you are all here," Riley said to reporters after the game. "Some players simply transcend everything around them and he's one of those players. He really got it going in Atlanta, sort of gearing up for New York."
"I was really relaxed and confident," Jordan said. "Sometimes here you get tense, but I just came in trying to fit in. I had low expectations for myself, but I was able to get it going."
The final moments were pressure-packed. A Jordan jumper at the 25.8-second mark gave Chicago a 111-109 lead. The Knicks needed a basket, and Starks stepped forward, driving to the hoop where he was fouled by Will Perdue with 14.6 seconds to play. Starks made both free throws to tie the game at 111, setting up the final sequence.
The fourth quarter was like two heavyweights slugging it out at center ring. The Bulls got the first knockdown with a critical 10-0 run early in the fourth quarter, with Jordan on the bench. It gave Chicago a 99-90 lead with 7:25 left.
But Ewing, rising to the occasion, scored the next eight points to pull the Knicks to within one. The only thing that Ewing did wrong during that sequence was to miss two free throws on the ends of two three-point play opportunities.
Those misses proved costly. With the Bulls clinging to a 99-98 lead, Jordan missed on a drive, but Perdue followed the shot for an easy layup that gave Chicago a three-point lead. Then after Derek Harper missed an off-balance jumper trying to draw a foul, Corie Blount followed in a blocked Jordan jumper to give Chicago a 103-98 lead. The Bulls' lead grew to 105-98 with 3:30 left, before the Knicks stormed back.