Even Jordan proves human


ORLANDO -- Seldom, if ever, has he looked so vulnerable. So unsure. So, well, lonely.

"I feel personally responsible," Michael Jordan said.

And the best analogy Bulls coach Phil Jackson could come up with, when insisting he had seen Jordan falter before, was a 3-of-6 free throw performance down the stretch of a Cleveland playoff game six years ago.

But Jackson's demeanor and that of Jordan's, sitting to his right in rigid repose, was a more accurate measure of a strange and miserable Sunday afternoon, and a game the Bulls could have won, should have lost and did -- in a most unlikely way.

The Orlando Magic snatched Game 1 of this best-of-seven NBA Eastern Conference semifinal 94-91 after trailing by one point with 18 seconds remaining and the ball in the Bulls' possession after a turnover by Dennis Scott.

On a day in which neither team played particularly well but Orlando surely played better, the Magic stole a victory when Nick Anderson stole the ball from the sure hands of Jordan. Actually, Anderson tipped it from behind as Jordan glanced from side to side expecting the foul, and by the time he realized what had happened, Anfernee Hardaway was shoveling it ahead to Horace Grant, who dunked the game-winner with 6.2 seconds left.

Jordan began the game shooting 2 of 10, finished at 8 of 22 for 19 points, and this was his eighth turnover overall. But there was still little question who would handle the ball on the last play.

"He was asked to attack the basket," Scottie Pippen said of the final huddle. And a Jordan game-winner would have surprised no one.

But once again Jordan was painfully human, uncharacteristically tentative as he snaked downcourt past Donald Royal and found himself in a position 10 feet from the basket, where he has launched so many shots before. Except this time, Jordan saw Pippen.

"I had a pretty good shot, but, really, I thought Scottie had a better one," said Jordan, who anxiously zipped a pass behind Pippen. It fell off Pippen's hands and out of bounds.

And that was that.

Hardaway hit a pair of consolation free throws, the Bulls never did get off a viable last shot, and the Orlando crowd, wearing a sizable chip on its collective shoulders, reacted in appropriately delirious fashion.

"He has made so many last-second shots," said Anderson, "I thought it was going to be in his hand all the way. I don't know, maybe he was thinking something that I wasn't because I sure thought he was coming to the basket with it."

Everyone else was simply waiting for a Magic foul.

Jordan, double-teamed frequently by 7-foot-1-inch Shaquille O'Neal, saw Anderson collapse.

"I knew he was behind me," he said, "but I didn't know which way. I tried to stay in front of him, but, really, I was just trying to avoid the foul. I thought they really had to foul with 13 seconds left. I misjudged him and he slapped the ball away."

Anderson pulled out his Magic jersey, stretching it toward the crowd, and exchanged chest thumps with Scott. "This game was very important," he said. "It could set the tone. It's a big confidence win, a big boost for us. It's something to build on. Honestly."

"I'm shocked," said Bulls guard Steve Kerr. "I thought we had it gift-wrapped. That's something you don't expect on this team."

The postgame questions offered excuses -- to Jordan for a sore pinky finger and chronically sore wrist, to Pippen for having to play power forward against Horace Grant, to Jackson for anything available. But none would bite.

Pippen, with a team-leading 10 rebounds to go with seven assists, was just 2-of-11 shooting for seven points and wasn't buying the theory that perhaps the Bulls ought to be encouraged at having played poorly and yet still won.

"Not really," he said. "We just did not play their first five. That's the toughest thing when you look at the stat sheet and see that their five outplayed our five at every position."

Indeed, Orlando starters, led by O'Neal's 26 points, outscored the Bulls 80-57 and outshot them 53 percent to 38 percent. O'Neal, a 53 percent free-throw shooter this season, double-crossed the Bulls by hitting 12 of 16.

"I take the blame just as I would take the credit," Jordan said. "I wouldn't say it was a lack of concentration, just mistakes on my part down the stretch. It happens to the best of us."

Chicago .. 19 .. 24 .. 22 .. 26 .. -- .. 91

Orlando .. 22 .. 21 .. 26 .. 25 .. -- .. 94

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