ORLANDO, Fla. -- When the Chicago Bulls won three straight NBA titles, Michael Jordan often labeled his teammates as his "supporting cast." And yet it has become clear since Jordan's return this season that it will be necessary for those players to step into starring roles.
If the Bulls are to advance in what has been reduced to a best-of-three series with the Orlando Magic, it's becoming clearer that players such as Toni Kukoc, B. J. Armstrong and Will Perdue may have to step up.
On Sunday, Jordan allowed them to share the spotlight. Kukoc had 13 points, seven rebounds, nine assists and four steals. Armstrong scored 18 points. And Perdue had 11 points and six rebounds off the bench, helping the Bulls to a 106-95 win that tied the series at two games. The series returns to the Orlando Arena for Game 5 tonight.
Not to be overlooked were the contributions of Ron Harper (four rebounds, and solid defense in 11 minutes; he had played four minutes in the series before Sunday), Jud Buechler (11 minutes) and Bill Wennington (12 minutes), who played well enough to spell the Chicago starters without losing ground on the scoreboard. Chicago's bench had an edge in points (20-10) and rebounds (16-7) for the game.
"I was shocked to play," said Harper, who has been disappointing with the Bulls after signing as a free agent before the season. "I just did my best. It was a good team win for us."
Maybe using more bodies gave the Bulls the fresh legs that enabled them to force 20 turnovers that led to 22 points. Twice in the fourth quarter the Bulls were able to step into the passing lanes to pick off passes by Shaquille O'Neal (who had a career-high nine assists to go along with his game-high five turnovers). Jordan had four steals, and so did Kukoc, who has never been known for his defense.
"We wanted to get our starters some rest so they could finish the game with strength," Bulls coach Phil Jackson said.
The Bulls have had mild success with what's known in Chicago as "the three-headed monster," the center trio of Perdue, Wennington and Luc Longley. On Sunday, they combined for 20 points and seven rebounds. O'Neal had 17 points and 10 rebounds.
But Longley sprained his right ankle in the first quarter and did not return. His status for tonight is not known, possibly giving the Bulls six fewer fouls to use against O'Neal.
"My ankle's badly sprained, and we'll see how it responds," Longley said. "Hopefully, it will get better and good enough to play on it."
The Magic will need a better effort from Nick Anderson, who was averaging 19.3 points in the series' first three games. Anderson scored 11 Sunday and matched O'Neal's turnover total with five.
Horace Grant continued his steady play against his former teammates, scoring 21 points on 9-for-11 shooting and grabbing 13 rebounds. But Jackson sees no reason to change his defense to stop Grant, who is getting many of his wide-open attempts from the free-throw line as the Bulls run double-teams at O'Neal.
"We're making Horace score, and he's doing it," Jackson said. "That's our game plan, and we're going to stick with it."
As a sidelight to what has been a dramatic and exciting series, it will be interesting to see if key players from both teams continue their "code of silence." On Sunday, O'Neal, Anderson and Grant from the Magic and Jordan, Scottie Pippen and Armstrong refused to comment on the game (Armstrong did make an in-studio appearance on one of the Chicago news shows Sunday night).
The NBA promised better cooperation, but some of the Bulls refused to speak after their practice in Chicago yesterday. They flew here later in the day.
Members of the Magic, after a 15-minute meeting with team vice president John Gabriel, did speak.