CHICAGO -- For two days, Dennis Rodman was blasted by the national media for missing practice on Monday and later that night appearing on a pro wrestling card. But last night it was the multi-tattooed forward who made the plays the moved Chicago Bulls a step closer to their sixth NBA title of the 1990s.
On offense, it was Rodman -- a 55.0 percent free-throw shooter during the regular season -- who stepped to the line in the fourth quarter and calmly made five of six when his team needed it most. And on defense it was Rodman who kept Karl Malone in check, keeping the "Mailman" to three points in the fourth quarter that helped the Bulls to an 86-82 win.
In victory, the Bulls took a 3-1 advantage in the best-of-seven NBA Finals. And it's no longer a question of if the Bulls will win their third straight title.
Michael Jordan scored 34 points to lead the Bulls, and Scottie Pippen added 28. But it was the play of Rodman, who scored six points -- all from the line -- and grabbed 14 rebounds that sparked the win.
Utah was led by Malone's 21 points, but the Mailman was a non-factor when his team needed him most. That Utah was trailing the series 2-1 going into last night could be attributed to its inability to score in the fourth quarter. With a nine-point fourth quarter in Game 3, the Jazz averaged 12.0 points in the fourth quarter going into last night.
And those woes continued in the fourth last night as Utah, trailing 61-57 going into the final period, failed to score until Antoine Carr scored on a jumper with 8: 43 left.
Utah trailed by as many as seven points in the fourth before they attempted a comeback to salvage the series. And they were helped by Chicago opening the quarter by missing five of 12 free throws.
That allowed Utah to briefly take a 70-69 lead when Chris Morris scored on a lay-up with 5: 01 left. Then Rodman, of all people, stepped to the free-throw line and made two free throws with 4: 05 left. The Bulls never trailed after that on the way to the victory and the 3-1 advantage in the series.
Utah was looking to recover from Sunday's 42-point loss, the worst defeat in NBA Finals history. In the seven times in the past 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).
For the Jazz, the start of the game was much like Game 3 when Malone hit his first six shots. With Utah being more patient in its offense in an attempt to expose what they perceived as Chicago's illegal defense, Malone was able to get good position and hit his first four shots of the game.
But just like on Sunday, Malone pretty much disappeared the rest of the half as he missed six of his remaining seven shots of the half. Unlike Sunday, when Utah trailed by 18 at the half, the Jazz had a better all-around effort and were down two, 39-37.
Malone scored three of Utah's first four field goals, with his short jumper with 8: 51 left giving the Jazz their largest lead of the half, 8-5. The Bulls came back behind the play of Pippen, who this time impacted play with his offense.
Pippen, whose defense was singled out in Chicago's Game 3 win, opened last night hitting three straight three-pointers. The Bulls turned out to be a two-man game in the first quarter when Pippen and Jordan combined to score 19 of Chicago's first 21 points. When Pippen scored the final points of the first quarter with a three-pointer with 36 seconds left, the Bulls -- despite grabbing fewer rebounds and shooting a lower field goal percentage -- had a 21-19 lead.
Pippen scored the first seven points of the second quarter, with his jumper with 10: 42 giving the Bulls their biggest lead of the half, 28-22. But then Chicago went cold, struggling through a span of 7: 42 without a field goal.
During that time the Jazz were on a 12-1 run sparked by the sudden aggressive play of John Stockton, who did not score in the first quarter after a two-point outing in Game 3. Stockton, taking advantage of Steve Kerr, scored five points over a span of nearly three minutes and his free throw with 3: 20 left gave Utah a 34-31 lead.
However Utah's final field goal of the half came with 4: 48 left in the half. And with Jordan scoring six of Chicago's final eight points of the half -- including a finger roll at the buzzer -- the Bulls had a 39-37 lead at the half.
Chicago got 16 points each from Jordan and Pippen, who combined to hit 12 of 24 shots. The Chicago bench missed all eight of its attempts, and scored just one point.
For the Jazz, Malone grabbed seven rebounds and scored 11 points -- but failed to score a field goal while Rodman was on the floor. And Utah, in scoring 18 points in the second quarter, failed to reach 20 points for the seventh straight quarter in the series.
In the third quarter Utah was hurt by blown missed opportunities. Trailing by one with a chance to take the lead, Bryon Russell missed two free throws.
And after Jordan hit two free throws at the other end for a 50-47 lead by Chicago, Malone -- who inexplicably plays with a lot of finesse for a man his size -- missed a wide-open lay-up on a play where he could have dunked the ball.
Malone did get his first basket of the game with Rodman on the floor on a lay-up with 4: 48 left -- although he scored it against Toni Kukoc. But Utah fell behind by as many as six in the quarter. And Utah went into the final quarter trailing 61-57.
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