CHICAGO -- There was a look of nervousness on the face of Chicago Bulls guard Michael Jordan before last night's Game 5 against the Indiana Pacers, and why not? There was the daunting possibility that it would be his last game at the United Center. But almost immediately, Jordan and the Bulls put those frightening thoughts to rest.
Looking to avoid three straight losses for the first time since 1990, the Bulls came out last night with an energy and a focus they have been lacking during this year's playoffs and the result was a lopsided 106-87 win over the Pacers.
"We haven't been in this position for a while," Jordan said of the 2-2 standoff heading into last night. "Everybody came out focused. We won this one in Chicago and now we have to win one in Indianapolis."
Jordan scored 29 points and Scottie Pippen added 20 as Chicago took a 3-2 lead in the Eastern Conference finals. The defending NBA champions have a chance to wrap up the series tomorrow in Indianapolis, where the Pacers have not lost a game this postseason.
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 last night completely flat, shooting 23.5 percent from the field in the first half and going through one stretch of 14 minutes, 14 seconds where they failed to score a field goal.
In the first half Indiana got a combined 23 points from their five starters -- or 11 less than Jordan and Pippen, who scored 17 each in the half. In fact the 34 points scored by Chicago's duo in the half was more than what the entire Indiana team scored.
"We were just anxious to get back out on the court," Pippen said. "We felt we should have won at least one of the games there."
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 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 to the basket for three easy scores. When the Pacers switched Miller over to Pippen, the Chicago small forward used his quickness for several easy scores.
Still the Pacers had an early 10-7 lead following back-to-back three-pointers by Miller and Mark Jackson. But soon after that, the game Pacers would have been better off heading back to Indianapolis and getting ready for Game 6.
The Pacers started to miss shots. An abundance of shots, missing nine straight the rest of the quarter after Jackson's three-pointer, and going through one stretch of 5: 20 where the team failed to score.
By the end of the first quarter Chicago's lead was 27-16. And Indiana's shooting problems continued into the second quarter, with the team missing 19 straight shots over a span of over 14: 14 until Rik Smits scored a jumper with 6: 16 left in the half.
With Jalen Rose suspended for the game, the Pacers lost one of their main sparks off of their effective bench. That forced coach Larry 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. By halftime the Bulls had a 58-32 lead.
Before the start of the second half Jordan could be seen urging the Bulls to bury the Pacers, and that's what Chicago did. With coach Phil Jackson showing no let-up in the third quarter -- he played four of his starters at least 10 minutes -- the Bulls increased their lead by as many as 31 points.
"We wanted to stay aggressive," Pippen said of the strong third-quarter start, "and not give away the advantage we had in the first half."
The crowd really got into the game midway through the third quarter when Toni Kukoc threw a pass behind his back to Jordan, who scored on a dunk over Jackson with 4: 50 left in the third, giving the Bulls a 74-45 lead.
All that was left for the fans was to lash out at the Pacers. Their derisive chants of "Reggie, Reggie, Reggie" sounded little like the same chants sung by the Indiana crowd after Miller's game-winning shot. The Pacers can only hope their fans give them another lift as they face elimination on their home court tomorrow.
"[Miller] didn't seem to have the energy he had in Indianapolis. I don't know if his ankle was bothering him or not," Jordan said.
Even with a 37-point lead in the fourth quarter Jordan was in the game, with a lay-up over Hoiberg marking his 35,000th career point in both playoff and regular-season games. Jordan would finish the game with 29 points, and the assurance that he would return to the United Center for at least another game.
Pub Date: 5/28/98