SEATTLE -- In all likelihood, the Chicago Bulls will be recognized as one of the greatest basketball teams ever by the time this NBA Finals series is over. But the coronation may have to wait at least a couple of days.
The Seattle SuperSonics saw to that. With the fans at Key Arena shouting "Not in our house" repeatedly, the Sonics came out and dominated the Bulls last night on the way to a 107-86 win.
For the Bulls, it was just their second loss in the postseason and the end to a nine-game winning streak. Still, the Bulls have a 3-1 lead in this best-of-seven series that will resume here tomorrow, but they won't have the distinction of becoming just the second team in NBA history to go through the postseason with just one loss.
Seattle, the second best team in the league this season, was criticized heavily after the one-sided loss here in Game 3. In winning last night, the Sonics at least avoided the embarrassment of being swept.
"This team has taken a lot of crap all year long," Seattle coach George Karl said. "I don't believe anybody stopped believing in the locker room. We were mad, we were angry, we were furious."
And they were smart. After Michael Jordan shot the Sonics down on Sunday, Karl decided to start Gary Payton on Jordan. After going ballistic in scoring 36 points on Sunday, Jordan missed 13 of 19 shots on the way to scoring 23 points.
"You have to give Gary credit for the way he played Michael," Seattle guard Hersey Hawkins said. "He was a lot more aggressive. Gary didn't win Defensive Player of the Year for nothing. He had a great defensive game."
Seattle's defense limited the Bulls to just 40 percent shooting. Scottie Pippen scored just nine, missing 13 of 17 shots and seven of eight three-pointers, and the Bulls scored only 11 points the second quarter, tying an NBA Finals record for fewest points in a quarter. Chicago's 32 points in the first half tied a franchise playoff record, and was two points shy of the NBA Finals record.
Seattle played well offensively as well.
The second highest scoring team in the league in the regular season, Seattle scored over 100 points for the first time in the series. Seattle shot 56.2 percent (second highest field goal percentage in the postseason), and had five players scoring in double figures.
Kemp led the Sonics with 25 points, hitting 12 of 17 shots. Payton, in addition to his tough defensive assignment, scored 21 points and tied a playoff high with 11 assists.
The fact the Sonics were not going to go down without a fight was evident in the decision by Karl to start Frank Brickowski at center. It was also evident when Payton was called for a foul after delivering a short elbow to Jordan's ribs early in the game. The Sonics were not going to be pushed around.
"I wanted him to work on the defensive end, and the offensive end," Payton said. "I wanted to go at him a little more."
When Kemp scored on a layup with 7: 15 left in the first the Sonics had a lead, which did not occur in all of Game 3. Seattle led by as many as nine in the quarter, and took a 25-21 lead into the second.
That's where the game was lost for the Bulls. A four-point deficit had become, at the midway point of the second quarter, 17 after Hersey Hawkins hit two free throws to make it 44-27. The Sonics got an emotional lift earlier in the quarter from Nate McMillan, whose three-pointer from the top of the key caused the crowd to erupt. McMillan had missed the last two games with a sore back.
"Nate gave us a big spark," Payton said. He was playing the point a little bit and I got to move without the ball."
With the Bulls struggling from the field in scoring those 11 second-quarter points, Seattle had a 53-32 halftime lead.
"Even though we closed at the end of the first quarter, we had to use a lot of energy," Bulls coach Phil Jackson said. "We started slow in the second quarter and put ourselves in a hole at halftime."
The Bulls fell behind by 21 points midway through the third before pulling to within 75-62 after two Jordan free throws with 1: 38 left. But Seattle had an 84-63 lead going into the final quarter, and would lead by as many as 27 on the way to the win.
"I didn't anticipate us playing like this," Jordan said. "We expected to play better. We wanted to play better. We didn't play better.
"We played extremely well to this point, so I guess we're entitled to a bad game," he added. "Nothing went right for us, everything went great for them. You have to realize this team won 64 games. To totally dominate them and win four straight games, that's stretching it."
The Sonics were able to stretch this series at least one more game. Before the game there was a dress rehearsal for a trophy presentation ceremony, in anticipation of the Bulls winning the series. As the fans cheered "Not in our house" at the end, it was clear that ceremony will have to wait.
"We're in the same position [tomorrow] as we are now, we've got to play one game at a time," Karl said. "It's going to be a battle. You know their pride is going to come out."
# Chicago vs. Seattle
(Chicago leads series, 3-1)
Day .... .... Site/result (Line) .. Time
Game 1 ...... Chicago, 107-90
Game 2 ...... Chicago, 92-88
Game 3 ...... Chicago, 108-86
Game 4 ...... Seattle, 107-86
Tomorrow .... at Seattle (+4) .... 9
Sunday* ..... at Chicago ......... 7:30
Wednesday* .. at Chicago ......... 9
TV: All games on chs. 11, 4
Pub Date: 6/13/96