SALT LAKE CITY -- It was, in Michael Jordan's words, "the moment." And in this particular moment, in perhaps the last game of his NBA career, the Chicago Bulls guard had the ball in his hands in the closing seconds with his team trailing by a point.
In his control, a potential third straight NBA title.
"My thoughts were very positive," Jordan would say later last night. "The crowd gets quiet. Once you get into the moment, you know you're there. Things start moving slowly, you start to see the court very well. I saw that moment and I took advantage of it."
Of course, Jordan delivered. This delivery was in the form of a 17-foot jumper with five seconds left, giving the Chicago Bulls an 87-86 win and the team's third straight NBA title.
In a season that's been billed as the "Last Dance" for the Bulls, who could lose Jordan to retirement if the team breaks up this off-season, the Chicago guard may have saved his best performance for last.
On a night when teammate Scottie Pippen was hobbled by a sore back and scored just eight points, Jordan carried the team with a game-high 45 points -- including the last eight.
"Last year, the fifth game here, I don't think you could top that performance he had in that game," said Chicago coach Phil Jackson, referring to Jordan's game-saving effort here last year when he was recovering from food poisoning. "I think he topped it. I think it was the best Michael performance ever in a critical game."
Even after Jordan made his basket, the Bulls had to survive one last Utah attempt. But John Stockton's' game-winning three-point attempt was inches short, bouncing off the rim.
And to on one's surprise, Jordan was the Most Valuable Player -- giving him that award in each of Chicago's championship seasons.
"You have to say Mike's the guy who comes through, he's the guy who always comes through in the clutch," Jackson said. "Right now, we want to celebrate the moment and enjoy something that's absolutely unusual."
For the Bulls, it was their second opportunity to clinch the title. But from the start, there was some concern about the health of Pippen, who strained his back during Friday's loss and spent much of yesterday in treatment.
Pippen started the game, and scored on a dunk on Chicago's opening possession. But as he came down, he grimaced, obviously aggravating the back injury. Pippen would play the first seven minutes, then went to the locker room for treatment and missed the rest of the half.
And without Pippen, the Bulls were still in the game at halftime. And that was because of the clutch shooting of Jordan who, sensing his team in need of offense with Pippen out, scored 23 points in the half that helped the Bulls stay within 49-45.
Aside from the blowout in Game 3, this series has been close throughout. But Utah, facing elimination for the second straight game, went through a cold stretch midway through the first quarter during which the team missed five straight shots. During that time, the Bulls were scoring nine straight points, and after a layup by Ron Harper with 4: 58 left, Chicago had a 19-8 lead.
Utah coach Jerry Sloan was livid, screaming at his team during a timeout. Whatever he said must have struck a chord because the Jazz responded with nine straight points of its own. And after Malone scored on a jumper with 1: 45 left, it was Utah that rebounded to take a 19-18 lead.
Malone would end the quarter with 12 points, hitting all four of his shots from the field. More importantly, Malone had five free-throw attempts in the quarter, significant since Malone had only shot more than six free throws in a game once in the series.
It was Malone who scored seven of the final eight points for Utah, and when he converted a three-point play with 15 seconds left, the Jazz -- shooting 64.3 percent -- had a 25-22 lead.
With Pippen out -- and in need of getting Jordan a rest -- Phil Jackson had a team of Toni Kukoc, Bill Wennington, Jud Buechler and Scott Burrell on the floor at the start of the second quarter. And that team fared well, only trailing by 28-24 by the time Jordan checked back in with 9: 39 left.
And it was around that time that Jordan said enough with the triangle offense he labeled a college offense last week. As he carried the team, Jordan during one stretch hit six straight shots, from many different angles. The final shot of that stretch, a baseline jumper, tied the game at 45 with 1: 40 left.
But Jordan, who squeezed off 11 of Chicago's 16 shots in the quarter, tired and missed his last three from the field. And Utah closed the half on baskets from Stockton and Russell, whose layup with four seconds left gave the Jazz a 49-45 lead.
Pippen did start the third quarter, but he was a shell of the player who had dominated this series defensively. Pippen missed two easy layup attempts, and wound up hitting one of three field goals in the third before he again went to the locker room for treatment.
Still, Utah was unable to put Chicago away. After Malone scored on a layup to start the third quarter scoring, Utah went the next eight minutes, four seconds without scoring a field goal.
What turned out to be an extremely physical quarter featured a bit of wrestling between Malone and Dennis Rodman, who reportedly will appear together on a wrestling card next month. When the little altercation with 6: 03 left in the third was over, Rodman was called for a tripping foul.
Chicago would later tie the game at 60 on a free throw by Jordan with 2: 36 left. But backup point guard Howard Eisley did a good job directing Utah's offense over the final minutes of the quarter, setting up both Antoine Carr and Adam Keefe for easy baskets. The Keefe layup just before the third-quarter buzzer gave Utah a 66-61 lead going into the final quarter.
Chicago vs. Utah
(Chicago wins, 4-2)
Gm. Site Winner Score
1 Utah Jazz 88-85, OT
2 Utah Bulls 93-88
3 Chi. Bulls 96-54
4 Chi. Bulls 86-82
5 Chi. Jazz 83-81
6 Utah Bulls 87-86
Pub Date: 6/15/98
Game 6 form
Last night was the Bulls' fifth Game 6 in the NBA Finals, and their fifth Game 6 win. They clinched in Game 5 against the Lakers in 1990-91:
Year ..... Opp. .... Score .... Result
'97-98 .. Jazz ..... W-87-86 .. Clinch
'96-97 .. Jazz ..... W-90-86 .. Clinch
'95-96 .. Sonics ... W-87-75 .. Clinch
'92-93 .. Suns ..... W-99-98 .. Clinch
'91-92 .. Blazers .. W-97-93 .. Clinch
A title run
The Bulls' 87-86 victory over Utah last night gave Chicago its sixth championship in eight years and its second threepeat in the '90s.
............ ............. Pts. Pts.
Sea. .. Opp. ........ Ser. for all.
'90-91 L.A. Lakers .. 4-1 101.4 91.6
'91-92 Portland ..... 4-2 104.0 96.7
'92-93 Phoenix ...... 4-2 106.7 106.7
'95-96 Seattle ...... 4-2 93.0 89.2
'96-97 Utah ......... 4-2 87.8 87.2
'97-98 Utah ......... 4-2 88.0 80.3