CHICAGO -- In the aftermath of getting completely taken out of their offense in Game 1, the Indiana Pacers spoke of adjustments. If last night's performance was their idea of an adjustment, then the Eastern Conference finals should prove to be a short series.
When it counted most late in the game, the Pacers could not get their offense started. And with Michael Jordan having no problem with his offense, in scoring 41 points, the Bulls defeated the Pacers, 104-98, to take a 2-0 lead in the best-of-seven series.
Jordan showed exactly why he was named the league's Most Valuable Player, hitting 13 of 22 shots from the field and 15 of 18 from the line. Most of the time he was guarded by Reggie Miller, who Jordan claims plays defense like he's "chicken fighting."
Miller had no fight defensively last night, getting dominated by Jordan. As the Pacers cut a nine-point deficit to three in the final minutes, Jordan hit one big shot after another to seal the victory.
"Great players are suppose to step up," Miller said. "And that's exactly what he did."
Miller scored nine points in the fourth quarter and finished with 19, but again he was pretty much a non-factor for the Pacers. Indiana's leading scorer missed nine of his 13 shots.
What has to be disturbing for Indiana is being hurt the same way that cost it Game 1: by Chicago's defensive pressure. The Pacers, who averaged just over 14 turnovers a game in the regular season, had 19 last night after committing 25 in the first game. Scottie Pippen's defensive pressure for the Bulls forced the usually reliable Mark Jackson into seven turnovers.
"Our defense has been our key throughout the playoffs," Pippen said. "But it's starting to really show in this series. I basically try to stop their transition game. I just try to keep pressure on their sets."
As far as Indiana coach Larry Bird is concerned, maybe Pippen is applying too much pressure. Bird said that Pippen got away with a lot of fouls on Jackson, especially late in the game.
"He got away with a lot of chest bumping," Bird said. "I just try to tell my guys to play through it."
The pressure resulted in Pippen getting five of the 15 steals for the Bulls, one game after the team recorded 19 steals.
But Pippen's not alone with his defensive play, with Ron Harper again doing a tremendous job on Miller.
"Ron's doing a great job shadowing [Miller]," said Chicago coach Phil Jackson. "Through the game we tried a couple different people on [Miller]. And we put Ron back on him at the end of the game to close it down."
Also playing a standout game defensively was Jordan, whose first steal made him the all-time leader in career playoff steals. Jordan entered the game tied with Magic Johnson at 358. Jordan had four steals, coming after a five-steal game on Sunday.
But what people seemed to enjoy most was Jordan's offense. He scored 17 points in the first half, an effort that allowed the Bulls to stay in the game.
And with the Bulls trailing by seven going into the second half it was Jordan who took the game over. Guarded by the taller Derrick McKey in the third, Jordan used his quickness to get to the free-throw line for eight attempts in the quarter.
"I actually started calling my own plays," said Jordan of his third quarter, when he strayed from the triangle offense. "They were already in the penalty about midway through the third and I forced the issue to try to get more fouls and take advantage of the matchups."
And he took full advantage of his match-up against Miller in the fourth quarter. At times he backed the rail-thin Miller into the lane and shot over the top of him. Other times he got Miller off-balance with a hard drive to the basket, and then suddenly pulled up and hit a jumper.
All of Jordan's points were necessary as the pesky Pacers rallied from nine points down to within three (98-95) with just over two minutes left after a jumper by Miller.
Jordan answered with a jumper of his own, giving the Bulls a 100-95 lead with 1: 44 left. And that was basically it for the Pacers, who must now try to make further adjustments to get back into this series.
"It's going to be tough; we know Chicago plays very well on the road," Bird said. "But if we continue to play hard and continue to give the effort, I think we'll have the opportunity to tie it up."
NOTES: The Bulls have won their last 19 playoff series when they've opened a 2-0 lead. Chicago has won 11 straight conference finals home games. The Bulls' last home loss was May 21, 1992, against Cleveland. Indiana lost its second in a row for the first time since Dec. 8-10. Only seven teams have rallied from 0-2 deficits to win a best-of-seven series.
Pub Date: 5/21/98