INDIANAPOLIS -- They've been the dominant team of the 1990s, winning five NBA titles. And during a span of 22 series -- in years when Michael Jordan played a full season -- the Chicago Bulls have faced an elimination game just once.
Tomorrow, the defending NBA champions will walk down that rare path once again, after the Indiana Pacers survived a horrendous shooting game by their best player in last night's 92-89 win at Market Square Arena that evened the Eastern Conference final series at 3-3 and produced the first Game 7 for a Jordan team since 1992.
"We're going to win Game 7," Jordan said. "Sure, it's different. We haven't done it in seven years. But somebody's going to win and go home happy, and somebody's going to lose."
On a night on which Reggie Miller missed 11 of 13 shots, it was reserve point guard Travis Best who stepped up as the hero to extend the Pacers' season.
Just 25 seconds after hitting a running jumper that gave the Pacers a two-point lead, Best stepped up to the line with the game tied with 8.5 seconds left and calmly hit two free throws for a 91-89 lead.
The Bulls had one chance to tie or win, and to no one's surprise, the ball was put in Jordan's hands. But Jordan fell and lost the ball as he attacked the basket, turning it over to Derrick McKey. The Pacers' reserve forward got fouled when he picked up the loose ball, hit one of two free throws and the Pacers had the 92-89 win.
McKey had his right arm extended on Jordan's hip during the drive. After the game, the Bulls were adamant that Jordan was tripped.
"I know some people think I tripped, but I'm not that clumsy," Jordan said. "I felt that was a foul that should have been called. I thought that was pretty obvious."
Said Bulls coach Phil Jackson: "They swallowed their whistles. He got tripped. He didn't fall down on his own. Anybody see him fall down on his own?"
That wasn't the only call the Bulls were unhappy with. Chicago had an 87-86 lead when Scottie Pippen was called for illegal defense with 1: 27 left -- a call that resulted in a game-tying free throw by Miller.
That call was made by Hue Hollins, the same official who called Pippen for the controversial foul against New York Knicks guard Hubert Davis during the 1994 playoffs.
The two have been at odds since, and Pippen sat long and hard in the locker room after the game trying to figure out what went wrong.
"He made two crucial calls I felt were uncalled for," Pippen said. "The illegal defense was a back-breaker. Somehow he finds a way to pick me out of the group.
"If he calls the game fairly instead of putting the spotlight on me, I don't have a problem with that," Pippen added. "It seems like the spotlight is always on me."
But this was a loss that the Bulls couldn't blame on the officials.
Chicago lost because it could not stop the inside game of Rik Smits (25 points, 11-for-12 from the field) and Dale Davis, who scored a career playoff high of 19 points.
"Rik was terrific," Miller said. "I couldn't find my shot and we needed a lift. He gave it to us."
And Best lifted the Pacers at the end. The 5-foot-11 point guard scored just six points, but he had four in the final 33 seconds. He scored on a running, one-hand bank shot over Steve Kerr with 33 seconds left, giving the Pacers an 89-87 lead.
After Jordan hit two free throws to tie the game, Best drove the lane and was fouled by Jordan with 8.5 seconds remaining. He calmly hit both, giving the Pacers a 91-89 lead.
"I just had to go to the hoop and make the play, and it worked," Best said. "This team has had a lot of confidence all year and we've been ready to play in big games, We have a lot of character and I think we showed it tonight.
For the Bulls, this will be the first time they will face an elimination game since the second round in 1992, when they were tied at three games apiece with the Knicks.
The Bulls won the seventh game, went on to beat the Cleveland Cavaliers in the Eastern Conference finals and later won their second straight title, beating the Portland Trail Blazers.
Pub Date: 5/30/98