CHICAGO -- There were signs, for three quarters, that this NBA Finals series would not be the romp that everyone expected. Through that point, the Seattle SuperSonics continued to battle, and going into the final quarter, just two points separated them from the best team in basketball.
And just like that, it was over.
During a time when the Sonics could have made a statement for the series and possibly steal a game at the United Center, they instead struggled through a 13-point fourth quarter on the way to a 107-90 loss.
In winning, the Bulls take a 1-0 lead in this best-of-seven series, with Game 2 scheduled for tomorrow here.
Michael Jordan scored 28 points to lead the Bulls and, on a night where Chicago appeared to struggle offensively, the final numbers were impressive. Scottie Pippen finished with 21 points, Toni Kukoc had 18 off the bench (12 in the fourth quarter) and Ron Harper had 15 points and seven assists, while doing a solid defensive job on Seattle point guard Gary Payton.
Shawn Kemp scored 32 points to lead the Sonics, before fouling out in the fourth quarter.
For three quarters the Sonics had shown its competitiveness, battling back from an 11-point deficit in the third to trail, 79-77, going into the final period.
Then Kukoc did his best to put the game away, at one point scoring 10 points -- including a rare four-point play when he was fouled by Kemp while hitting a three-pointer. In all, the Bulls opened the final period with a 16-5 run, taking a 93-82 lead after a layup by Harper with just under seven minutes left.
A couple of turnovers by the Bulls led to two easy baskets by Payton, with his layup with 5: 42 pulling the Sonics to within 93-86. But as the Sonics demonstrated problems scoring out of their half-court offense, the Bulls scored eight straight points for a 101-86 lead. From that point, all the Sonics could do was look forward to the changes necessary for tomorrow's Game 2.
Going into the game, few even gave the Sonics a chance in the series, never mind a chance to steal the first game at the United Center. But behind a defense that limited the Bulls to 36.4 percent shooting from the field, the Sonics played Chicago pretty even for a half, going into intermission down 53-48.
One of the biggest questions going into the game was who would check Jordan, and at the start of the game the answer was pretty surprising.
On Monday, Seattle coach George Karl said he would start Hersey Hawkins on Jordan, rather than defensive player of the year Payton. But the Sonics came out with a completely different wrinkle, matching 6-foot-10 small forward Detlef Schrempf on Jordan, with Payton defending Pippen.
That move at the start appeared to bother 6-6 Jordan, who missed his first two shots and was forced almost totally to the perimeter by the taller Shrempf. The Bulls started the game showing the rust that coach Phil Jackson was concerned about as they missed five of their first six shots and fell behind 8-5 after a layup by Ervin Johnson with 8: 35 left.
With Jordan perhaps slightly confused, it was center Luc Longley who became more offensive-minded and pulled the Bulls out of their struggles. Longley, who scored a career-high 21 points against the Sonics in November, scored eight points during a 17-5 run by the Bulls. When that run ended after a Jordan jumper with 3: 26 left Chicago had a 22-13 lead. Seattle was able to stay in the game mainly behind the perimeter shooting of Shawn Kemp, who scored nine points in the first quarter and had the Sonics within 24-18 at the end of the period.
If the Sonics are to be competitive this series they will need a big performance from reserve center Sam Perkins, who is hard to defend because he does most of his damage comes from the perimeter. Perkins scored eight of 11 first-half points over the first four minutes of the second quarter, and his three-pointer with 8: 04 left completed a 19-6 run that gave the Sonics a 32-28 lead.
From that point the Bulls had to realize that the series might not be as easy as many anticipated. The next six minutes would feature seven lead changes, the last coming with 1: 52 left when two free throws by Jordan gave the Bulls a 44-43 lead. And then the Sonics were hurt by a ploy that backfired.
If there is a so-called enforcer in Seattle's lineup it's Frank Brickowski, and one has to think that when he checked in with 3: 12 left his job was to bait Dennis Rodman, who had already picked up a technical foul. But Brickowski was called or a flagrant foul after tossing Rodman to the floor with 1: 27 left, and then was ejected after picking up two technical fouls.
That was the start of five straight free throws by the Bulls, with two by Jordan with 1: 18 left, increasing the lead to 49-43. Led by Jordan's 18 points, the Bulls had their 53-48 halftime lead.
In the third the Bulls took their biggest lead to that point, 67-56, after a three-pointer by Pippen with 8: 00 left. And Rodman got a little more offensive minded, scoring two field goals and handing off an assist during the quarter.
But the Bulls came up with a strange move, sitting Jordan with a seven-point lead with just over six minutes left. As he sat the Sonics slowing began getting back into the game, pulling to within 72-71 after a layup by Kemp with 2: 58 left. Jordan returned with 2: 32 left, only after Rodman had picked up his fifth foul. The Bulls, still suffering from poor shooting, took a 79-77 lead into the final quarter.
Pub Date: 6/06/96
Chicago vs. Seattle
(Chicago leads series, 1-0)
Day .. .. .. .. .. Site/result .. Time
Yesterday .. .. .. Chicago, 107-90
Tomorrow ... .. .. at Chicago .. ... 9
Sunday .. .. .. .. at Seattle .. 7: 30
Wednes. . .. .. .. at Seattle .. ... 9
June 14* ... .. .. at Seattle .. ... 9
June 16* ... .. .. at Chicago .. 7: 30
June 19* ... .. .. at Chicago .. ... 9
TV: All games on chs. 11, 4