SEATTLE -- They were back home, in a building where they had lost just five games this season. They had not lost three in a row all year. Coach George Karl kept promising that his team was getting close, and one figured that the Seattle SuperSonics, after an encouraging Game 2, could well be on the verge of playing their best game of this NBA Finals.
Guess again. The Chicago Bulls came out having what Karl described as "killer eyes." And in a series where they have yet to play their best ball, the Bulls came awfully close last night as they built a 22-point first-half lead on the way to a 108-86 victory.
In victory the Bulls took a commanding 3-0 lead in the series -- a deficit that no team in Finals history has overcome. Even the die-hard Seattle fans had to come to the realization that there's no way this series is going back to Chicago -- the Bulls would very much like to get this over Wednesday.
"It's got to be over," Bulls forward Dennis Rodman said, when asked about Seattle's chances. "I'm ready to go. Tomorrow. Let's get this over with."
Last night's game was over after the first six minutes, when the Bulls already had a 15-point lead. Jordan had 12 points in the first quarter to help open a 34-12 lead, and was barely getting started. Over a 3: 10 span of the second quarter Jordan scored 15 points for the Bulls -- more than Gary Payton (eight) and Shawn Kemp (six) had combined in the first half.
Jordan had 27 points at the half, and 36 for the game.
"The second quarter I saw a need to step up offensively, and I was in a great rhythm," Jordan said. "We sensed an opportunity to grab this series in Game 3."
By halftime, Chicago's lead was 62-38, and the way the Sonics played they could have walked past their locker room and out of the building. No team had ever come back from that deficit at the half to win an NBA Finals game.
But the Sonics did pick up their play in the third quarter, when they limited the Bulls to just 13 points. After Luc Longley (19 points, career playoff high) hit a jumper in the open
ing minute of the third, the Bulls failed to score for more than five minutes.
Seattle did get as close as 12, 71-59, after a three-pointer by David Wingate (Dunbar) with 2: 24 left. Payton had a chance to get the game to within single digits on Seattle's next possession, but turned the ball over. Toni Kukoc scored on a fast-break dunk to increase the lead to 73-59.
But as the Bulls struggled, Seattle didn't necessarily experience an offensive eruption, and by the end of the quarter Chicago had a comfortable 75-61 lead going into the final 12 minutes.
"We lost our rhythm in the third quarter," Jordan said. "But we were able to hold them off defensively. They expended so much energy and I'm sure they would look up and find out they were still down 15 points. They didn't really gain anything from it."
Which set up a fourth quarter that really lacked any interest other than the dueling elbows of Rodman (10 rebounds) and Seattle forward Frank Brickowski.
In Game 1, Brickowski was ejected with two technicals, after arguing a flagrant foul call involving Rodman. This time he was tossed with 5: 46 left for picking up a flagrant foul on an elbow delivered to Rodman's throat.
"They're trying to mess with me, trying to mess with my head," Rodman said. "But you can't mess with the master. There's a difference between being physical and doing your job. They're not doing their job."
After Brickowski's exit, Rodman and Kemp got tangled up several times. That's when Chicago coach Phil Jackson decided to pull his forward.
"Dennis stayed pretty strong throughout that period," Jackson said. "There were too many confrontations, and I didn't like what was going on. I didn't want the game to disintegrate."
But this series long ago disintegrated, into a tremendous mismatch that will likely conclude Wednesday.
"We all took a whipping tonight," said Karl. "We have an emotional and psychological barrier in front of us. . . . There's a lot good about sport, but now we're seeing some of the bad about sport."
That the Bulls dominated here last night is no surprise for a team that won a league-record 33 games on the road during the season.
"When you're home there's a natural tendency to relax," Jordan explained. "On the road you bond together, 14, 16, 18 people strong. You learn how to focus on the game, without the distractions of everyone else."
The way the Sonics played, they appeared to be victims of major distractions since returning home on Saturday with a 2-0 deficit. The distractions for Kemp, who averaged 30.5 points through two games, had less to do with what was going on at home and more to do with the two and three defenders the Bulls sent at him. Kemp finished the game with 14 points, four rebounds and five turnovers -- by far his poorest performance of the series.
"If you miss a couple of shots, it throws your game off," Kemp said. "I think we got a little passive from the outside and when you become passive there, you also become passive in your decisions."
Which results in bad decisions, and the Sonics committed 21 turnovers yesterday.
Defensively, the Sonics recorded a playoff- and season-low three steals -- which is one more than their franchise low of two set in 1978. A team that led the league in steals with 10.76 per game, the Sonics have not recorded double digits in steals in the past nine games.
The victory was the eighth straight in the playoffs for the Bulls, who improved to 14-1 overall. Going up 3-0 is a good omen that the series will end Wednesday. Of the nine Finals that have reached 3-0, six resulted in sweeps.
"It's upsetting to me to come back to our gym and lose the way we did," Kemp said. "The only place it leaves you is to come out fighting.
"This is the time you come out and say the heck with everything and come out and try to play your game."
Unfortunately for the Sonics, that time has come too late.
# Chicago vs. Seattle
(Chicago leads series, 3-0)
Day .... .... Site/result (Line) .... .... Time
Game 1 ...... Chicago, 107-90 ....... ........
Game 2 ...... Chicago, 92-88 ........ ........
Game 3 ...... Chicago, 108-86 ....... ........
Wednesday ... at Seattle (+5 1/2 ) ...... ....... 9
Friday* ..... at Seattle ............ ....... 9
June 16* ..... at Chicago ........... .... 7:30
June 19* ..... at Chicago ........... .... 9 TV: All games on chs. 11, 4 ......... .....