CHICAGO -- As Indiana Pacers guard Mark Jackson dissected the New York Knicks in the Eastern Conference semifinals, Scottie Pippen was an interested spectator. And in the days leading up the Eastern Conference finals, the Chicago Bulls forward had one request as he talked about the matchups with his teammates.
"I wanted to play Jackson," Pippen said. "He's the guy who makes the team click. I wanted him to have to work."
Pippen got his wish. And for a guy who was so off-target on offense that he simply stopped shooting, Pippen was the most dominant player on the court during an 85-79 win over the Pacers that gave the Bulls a 1-0 lead in the best-of-seven series.
Pippen shot 1-for-9 from the field and scored four points. But for most of his 40 minutes, he pressured Jackson from the moment he received the ball.
Initially, that helped delay the Pacers in setting up their offense. And, ultimately, the post-ups the 6-foot-3 Jackson used to destroy New York's smaller guards in the second round were not available against the 6-7 Pippen.
Jackson was so frustrated that he finished with seven turnovers. And while his overall line was impressive -- 12 points, seven rebounds, six assists -- he didn't record one assist over the final 28 minutes, 10 seconds.
"Obviously, that hurt us offensively," Indiana coach Larry Bird said. "This is the first time this year I have seen a player get on a point guard and not really foul him, but get his hands in there and dig out the ball. Next game we need to do a better job of getting Mark open going down the court."
If Bird, the NBA's Coach of the Year, doesn't come up with an answer, this series will be short. That's because the Bulls won while shooting 35.8 percent and struggling through a first half in which Michael Jordan (1-for-9), Pippen (1-for-8) and Toni Kukoc (1-for-7) shot a combined 12.5 percent.
Despite getting out-shot in the first half, 48.7 percent to 27.3, the Bulls trailed only 40-37. They also got a boost from Dennis Rodman, who came of the bench to score nine points and grab seven rebounds in 16 first-half minutes.
"Once [Rodman] came off the bench, the intensity picked up," Bulls coach Phil Jackson said. "He started scrumming around in there for loose balls. Although he didn't play a lot of minutes , he had a lot of things happening."
Jordan did a lot in the second half, when he scored 25 of his game-high 31 points. But that's expected from Jordan, who today will collect his fifth Most Valuable Player Award, one short of Kareem Abdul-Jabbar's NBA record.
"I was really passive [in the first half]," said Jordan, who led the NBA in scoring for an unprecedented 10th time at 28.7 points. "I felt I was going to try to get everybody involved and what happened was I got too passive and too relaxed. In the second half, offensively, I knew we needed a push."
From the end of the first half to early in the second half the Bulls ran off 16 straight points to take a 47-41 lead. Indiana stayed within striking distance, getting as close as one point in the fourth quarter, but couldn't catch up.
Reggie Miller (16 points) played passively and made just two field goals in the second half. Rik Smits, so effective against New York, was never able to get low-post position and had just three points and one field goal in the second half.
Miller's and Smits' struggles were spurred by Pippen, who plotted the strategy with Jordan and Ron Harper before the game. Pippen would guard Mark Jackson, Harper would chase Miller and Jordan would defend Chris Mullin (1-for-4, two points). The three presented the plan to Phil Jackson, who gladly accepted.
So intent was Pippen on the defensive end that he took just one shot in the second half. But the sacrifices made by the seven-time All-NBA defensive forward, who can effectively guard three positions, was a major reason the Bulls won the series opener.
"I knew at the beginning of the game that, sooner or later, my pressure was going to take its toll on him," Pippen said. "I could sense the frustration setting in."
Pub Date: 5/18/98