CHICAGO -- If this was, indeed, the end of an era, then what better way to end it? With less than one second left and the Chicago Bulls trailing by two, Michael Jordan threw up a three-point attempt that would give the Bulls their third straight NBA title.
"I love those moments," Jordan said later. "Great players thrive on those moments."
Yet on this night, the moment for Jordan would not be magical -- his shot missed. It proved to be a magical moment for Karl Malone, who scored 39 points to lift the Utah Jazz to an 83-81 victory that helped the team avoid elimination.
Utah cut its deficit in the best-of-seven series to 3-2 and regained home-court advantage, with the next two games scheduled for Salt Lake City starting tomorrow.
For the Bulls, it was their first home loss in the NBA Finals since 1993 against Phoenix, ending an NBA-record eight-game streak.
And how upset were the Bulls, primed to celebrate after easily handling the Jazz in the first two games here, to return to Utah?
"It's going to be very hard," Scottie Pippen said. "I know no one wanted to make this trip. All of you [media] guys don't want to make this trip. But we have to do it. And it's very disappointing on our part that we have to do it."
So intent was Chicago to party last night that television stations aired "Celebrate with Dignity" advertisements featuring Jordan, Phil Jackson and Dennis Rodman, urging people to demonstrate restraint after the expected clincher.
But Malone put those plans on hold, showing an aggression that he hadn't exhibited in this series. He scored against Luc Longley and Dennis Rodman and demanded the ball in the fourth quarter, as opposed to Game 4 on Wednesday, when he took only three shots in the final period.
Malone finished with 39 points, hitting 17 of 27 shots and finally resembling the power forward who wreaked havoc throughout the playoffs leading to the Finals.
His delivery time resembled the lack of promptness of, say, the Pony Express, but Malone delivered in perhaps the biggest game of his career.
"We just have to continue to believe in each other as a team," Malone said, deflecting questions to talk about his effort. "When we make up our mind as a team, as a group, to play defense, execute our plays, rebound, we're a good team."
What Malone got last night was help from an unlikely source, 36-year-old backup forward Antoine Carr.
"Big Dog" hadn't played more than 13 minutes in any game of this series going into last night. But he started the second half and finished the game playing 21 minutes, contributing 12 points on 5-for-6 shooting from the field. Carr also hit two big free throws with 10.4 seconds left that gave Utah an 82-78 lead.
"[Coach Jerry] Sloan wanted to bring more energy," said Carr, of his starting the second half. "I wanted to get in there and bang.
Bulls coach Jackson said, "[Carr] has been kind of quiet this series, but they found a way to get him going. He was their fourth option, so to speak, off the bench, and they found a guy that could do it."
The Jazz also found an aggression that had been lacking in the series, playing very physical early. When Chicago players went to the post, they were attacked quickly by Utah guards, whose strips accounted for the majority of the 10 first-half turnovers by the Bulls.
"I thought we got a little better trying to beat them to the areas they wanted to get to," said Sloan, who has criticized his team's effort throughout the series. "We had a few more deflections in this game than the total of all four of the first games.
"I thought our guys stood their ground a little bit more," Sloan said. "I think when you stand up to a person in this business, you're going to get a little bit more respect."
The Jazz may have blown out the Bulls had it not been for Toni Kukoc, who scored 30 points on 11-of-13 shooting. Kukoc hit four of six three-pointers, including two in the final minutes in an attempt to get the Bulls back in the game. That helped overcome a 2-for-16 performance from Pippen and a 9-for-26 night from Jordan.
"Toni kept us in the game," Jordan said. "We have to raise our level to Toni's level the next game. He played extremely well."
He at least gave Jordan a chance. A three-pointer by Kukoc with 5.5 seconds left pulled Chicago within 82-81. Jeff Hornacek was fouled after catching the inbounds pass, but he hit just one of two free-throw attempts with 1.1 seconds left, giving Utah an 83-81 lead -- and allowing Jordan one last chance.
After Stockton deflected Chicago's first inbounds play out of bounds, knocking three-tenths of a second off the clock, the Bulls put their title hopes on Jordan.
"With 1.1 seconds left, no one knew what was going to happen," Jordan said. "Everybody was anticipating a big shot on our side; on their side everybody thought I could make the shot.
"And that's the beauty of the game."
Only this time without the magical ending.
NOTES: No home team has ever won the middle three games of the NBA Finals since the league went to the 2-3-2 format in 1985. Utah had failed to score 20 points in nine of 11 quarters until its 29-point outburst in the third, the team's highest scoring quarter of the series. Rodman had just three rebounds in 24 minutes. Kukoc's 30 points were a playoff high. Malone's 39 was his highest total ever in the Finals.
NBA Finals Chicago vs. Utah
(Chicago leads 3-2)
Date Res./Site Time
Game 1 Utah, 88-85, OT
Game 2 Chicago, 93-88
Game 3 Chicago, 96-54
Game 4 Chicago, 86-82
Last night Utah, 83-81
Tomorrow at Utah 7: 30
Wednesday at Utah 9*
TV: Chs. 11, 4
NBA career playoff scoring leaders (x-active):
(Through last night)