CHICAGO -- There was a look of nervousness on Michael Jordan's face before last night's Game 5 against the Indiana Pacers, and why not? There was a daunting possibility that it would be his last game at the United Center. But after a couple of sleepless nights since a Game 4 loss, Jordan and his Chicago Bulls teammates made a statement that they are not ready for their season to end.
Looking to avoid their first three-game losing streak since 1990, the Bulls came out with an energy and focus they have been lacking during this year's playoffs, and it resulted in a 106-87 win over the Indiana Pacers.
Jordan scored 29 points and Scottie Pippen had 20 points, eight rebounds and seven assists as Chicago took a 3-2 lead in the Eastern Conference finals while handing Indiana its worst loss of the season. The defending NBA champs have a chance to wrap up the series tomorrow in Indianapolis, where the Pacers have not lost a game this postseason.
"It's an embarrassing loss," Indiana guard Reggie Miller said. "The mistakes we made, we can't count on it in Game 6 if we want to be back here on Sunday."
For the Pacers to win this series, at some point they are going to have to win a game at the United Center. But for a team that had the Bulls looking vulnerable during two wins over
the weekend, the Pacers came out completely flat last night.
Indiana shot 23.5 percent from the field in the first half, and went through a stretch of 14 minutes, 14 seconds where it failed to score a field goal. During that stretch the Pacers missed 19 straight shots, a showing that left coach Larry Bird perplexed.
"We didn't play; we were very passive," Bird said of his team, which had lost by more than 20 just once this season. "I'm very disappointed the way we came out. It surprises me the biggest game of the year, we come and are passive. To come out and play like that, I don't have any answers for it."
Or any answers for the aggressive play right from the start by Pippen and Jordan, who each scored 17 in the first half. The two combined to outscore Indiana over the first 24 minutes as Chicago had a 57-32 halftime lead.
From the outset, it appeared the game plan of the Bulls was to punish Miller, who hit the game-winning three-pointer on Monday and later chided Chicago for complaining about foul calls. It was obvious from the pre-game warm-ups that Miller was still gimpy from the right ankle that he sprained in Game 3, and the Bulls tested him right away.
Jordan's first four shot attempts were in the low post against Miller, and he muscled his way inside for three easy scores.
"I don't have a problem backing Reggie in," Jordan said. "It forces them to double team. If they don't double team, I'm going to get closer to the basket. I backed him in as close as I could get him."
It didn't take long for the Pacers to make a switch, moving Miller over to Pippen. But Pippen used his quickness against Miller for some easy scores.
"Scottie going to the basket right away set the tempo for the game," Chicago coach Phil Jackson said.
That the Pacers couldn't find the basket also helped the Bulls. Indiana had an early 10-7 lead following back-to-back three-pointers by Miller and Mark Jackson. But from there the Pacers missed nine straight shots to end the quarter, going one scoreless stretch of 5: 20.
In all, the Pacers missed 19 straight shots over a span of morethan 14: 14, finally ending the drought with a Rik Smits jumper with 6: 16 left in the half. By then Indiana trailed 39-22, and the game was over.
With Jalen Rose suspended for the game, the Pacers lost one of their main sparks off their effective bench. That forced Bird to use several odd combinations, at one point using both Mark Pope and Fred Hoiberg together.
Neither of the little-used reserves provided a lift, and the move only seemed to give a rise to Jordan when he saw Hoiberg defending him. Jordan wound up playing 20 minutes in the first half, grabbing five rebounds to go along with his 17 points.
Pippen's first-half line would make most players happy for a game: 17 points, eight rebounds, six assists. The Bulls led by as many as 33 on the way to the win.
"Chicago comes out strong all the time, that's why they're world champs," Bird said. "We were passive, and that was the
(Best of seven)
Indiana vs. Chicago
(Chicago leads series, 3-2)
Game 1--Chicago 85, Indiana 79
Game 2--Chicago 104, Indiana 98
Game 3--Indiana 107, Chicago 105
Game 4--Indiana 96, Chicago 94
Yesterday--Chicago 106, Indiana 87
Tomorrow--At Indiana, 9 p.m. (NBC)
Sunday--At Chicago, TBA (NBC)*
* -- If necessary
Pub Date: 5/29/98