CHICAGO -- There was Dennis Rodman, shirtless, in all his glory walking off the court to the screams of adoring fans. After being blasted by the media for his antics the past few days, it was the multi-tattooed Chicago Bulls forward who wound up having the last laugh by helping his team get one step closer to its third straight NBA championship.
Make big free throws? Grab huge rebounds? Carrying Karl Malone in his pocket? Rodman did it all last night, sparking the Bulls to an 86-82 win over the Utah Jazz that gave Chicago a 3-1 lead in the NBA Finals. The Bulls could win their third straight title -- and sixth of the 1990s -- with a win tomorrow night at the United Center.
The loss leaves the Jazz, which had home-court advantage coming into the series, in dire straits. No team has ever recovered from a 3-1 deficit to win the championship.
"We want to win it on Friday," said coach Phil Jackson, one of several Bulls who may not be back next season.
"We're just trying to get through one more game, that's pretty much it. Then I can stick [my uniform] in the trunk," said Scottie Pippen, also unlikely to return next season. "We want it bad."
Said Michael Jordan, who has talked about retiring if Jackson and Pippen don't come back next season, said: "I understand Scottie wants to take his uniform off and put it in the trunk. I want to, too. They'll give out new ones next year -- wherever and whenever."
Jordan scored 34 points to lead the Bulls, and Pippen added 28. But Rodman had the biggest impact on the game, despite not scoring a field goal. He had six points and 14 rebounds, and his all-out hustle should make everyone forget his Monday antics, when he first missed practice and later appeared on a pro wrestling card in Michigan.
"The much-maligned Dennis Rodman had a wonderful game for us. He pulls himself out of the hole and found a way to redeem himself," Jackson said. "His defense on Karl was great, and he was the best we had on the free-throw line. Dennis likes to back himself in a corner and work his way back to shining laurels."
Rodman's defense was the biggest factor. Malone scored just two field goals while Rodman was on the court. The first was on a layup that came against Toni Kukoc. The second was a meaningless outside shot with nine seconds left, with the game already decided.
That basket resulted in the only points of the quarter for Malone, who took just three shots when Utah needed him most. During the times they've gone head-to-head in the Finals, Rodman has held what some consider one of the best power forwards in NBA history in check.
"I think it's just due, for all that's happened the last couple of days," Rodman said. "The media made it more than what it was. I didn't do anything to embarrass my team or get the spotlight -- I can do that anytime."
Asked why he has so much success against Malone, Rodman answered: "I'm more mobile. I have more agility than Luc [Longley]. Against Luc, he can do anything, but not against me."
What was surprising was Rodman's contribution from the free-throw line in the fourth quarter, when Utah was making a run. After trailing by as many as seven in the fourth quarter, Utah had tied the game at 72 on a layup by Jeff Hornacek with 3: 15 left. But after Pippen missed a three-pointer, Rodman was fouled after he out-hustled Malone for the offensive rebound.
Rodman, a 55 percent free-throw shooter this season, calmly hit both after the Bulls had started the quarter missing five of 12 from the line.
With 43 seconds left and the Jazz down 79-77, Rodman was fouled again. And again, he hit both free throws for an 81-77 lead that pretty much put the game away. Utah missed four of its next five shots before Malone finally scored his only points of the fourth quarter on a late basket. That made the score 84-79, a little too late for a delivery from the Mailman. Malone made one of three shots in the fourth quarter last night, just one game after attempting just five shots over the final three quarters of Sunday's 42-point loss.
"I don't really know," was Malone's response, when asked about the lack of shot attempts. "You can't pinpoint it. You stay within the offense."
Yet while Malone was content to stick with the pick-and-roll when his team needed shots, or at least free-throw attempts, a true superstar like Jordan was demanding the ball in the post when his team needed big baskets in the fourth quarter. Twice in a span of 36 seconds, with his team leading by one point, Jordan went to the low post and scored over Shandon Anderson. The second of those scores, with 1: 38 left, gave the Bulls a 78-75 lead.
"Tonight was like an appetizer," said Jordan. "Friday will be the entree. The job is not done. We can taste it, sure. But the job is not yet done."
Utah was looking to recover from Sunday's defeat, the worst in NBA Finals history. In the seven times that games in the Finals were decided by 33 points or more, the team that lost rebounded to win the next game (most recently in 1992 when Portland lost by 33 points to Chicago in Game 1 of the Finals, then won the next game in overtime).
The Jazz would not join that group, and now must find a way to win on Chicago's home court, where the Bulls haven't lost in the Finals since 1993.
Perhaps Utah's final chance came on its possession after Jordan had put the Bulls up 78-75 with 1: 38 left. Chris Morris had a wide-open three-point attempt that would have tied the score, but missed, and the Bulls got the rebound.
That pretty much ended the hopes of the Jazz, who now need to win three straight games. Asked what Utah needed to move this series back to Salt Lake City for a Game 6 on Sunday, Malone's response was quick and to the point:
Chicago vs. Utah
(Chicago leads 3-1)
Date Res./Site Time
Game 1 Utah, 88-85, OT
Game 2 Chicago, 93-88
Game 3 Chicago, 96-54
Last night Chicago, 86-82
Tomorrow at Chicago 9
Sunday at Utah 7: 30*
June 17 at Utah 9*
(Line in parentheses)
TV: Chs. 11, 4
Pub Date: 6/11/98