Bulls' winning pair: Rodman, Wennington Unlikely late offense beats Knicks, 94-91

THE BALTIMORE SUN

NEW YORK -- So what if the Chicago Bulls, in their Eastern Conference semifinal series against the New York Knicks, have yet to resemble the team that won an NBA-record 72 games?

And so what if neither Michael Jordan nor Scottie Pippen was a major factor in yesterday's Game 4?

The Bulls are still in position to close out this series after Dennis Rodman played setup man and Bill Wennington go-to guy on two key possessions down the stretch in yesterday's 94-91 win at Madison Square Garden.

The Bulls lead the best-of-seven series 3-1 and can clinch it tomorrow night.

"We had some people step up to give us some support that you wouldn't expect," Jordan said. "That's what you need."

Especially on a night when Jordan, despite scoring 27 points, shot 0-for-6 and had just two points in the fourth quarter. And on a night when Pippen, who injured his back in the first half, had nine points and hit three of 11 shots.

Beyond the offense of Rodman and Wennington, the Knicks could blame the loss on poor rebounding. Chicago had a 55-35 rebounding edge, including 23-4 on the offensive boards.

"They kicked our butts on the boards -- that's it," said Patrick Ewing, who carried the Knicks with a 29-point, 10-rebound outing. "We haven't done a good job rebounding the entire series."

Though the Knicks attempted 23 fewer field goals (81-58), they were still able to overcome an 11-point, fourth-quarter deficit. New York scored 13 straight points, and, after Ewing's jumper with 1: 41 left, the Knicks led 89-86.

The drought ended when, with Pippen and Jordan as decoys, Rodman drove the lane and fed Wennington for a dunk to pull Chicago within 89-88. Ewing followed with a running jumper, giving New York a 91-88 lead.

"Ewing carried them," Jordan said. "He was hitting shots with men all over him."

Then Pippen took a lob pass from Jordan for a layup to draw the Bulls within 91-90 with 1: 01 left. After Ewing was called for traveling, Rodman again drove the lane and passed to Wennington. He hit the open jumper for a 92-91 lead with 36 seconds left.

"The Garden has been very good to me," said Wennington, who played his college home games here for St. John's. "I feel comfortable playing here."

Said New York coach Jeff Van Gundy: "Rodman made two very good plays. If you're going to have a combination of Rodman to Wennington beat you -- our thing is to not let Jordan beat you."

The Knicks had one last chance to tie, and John Starks let fly a three-point attempt just before the buzzer that hit all net. But Starks, who fumbled the pass before shooting, was called for traveling.

"I thought it was a good shot, no steps," he said. "I've seen worse."

What Starks probably hasn't seen is his team's being beaten by the Bulls on a night when Pippen and Jordan weren't major factors. The Knicks double-teamed Jordan every time he caught the ball. Which is why Bulls coach Phil Jackson asked Rodman -- of all people -- to create.

"[Charles] Oakley was leaving to chase Michael, and we kept encouraging [Rodman] to relieve some of the pressure," Jackson said. "Michael didn't have the energy to play at the level he did [Saturday]. He knew it, I knew it."

Which is probably the biggest difference between the old Jordan and the newer Jordan, who, at 33, needs more time to rejuvenate. Jordan scored 46 in 51 minutes on Saturday, and had just a little more than a day to recuperate. Being a step slow may have led to Jordan's foul trouble (he picked up his fifth with 7: 17 left).

"[Fouls] made me very hesitant in some respects, and I was tired," Jordan said. "But we didn't win 72 games with me always stepping forward in the closing minutes."

Pub Date: 5/13/96

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