May 18, 1992 By Melissa Isaacson.
Order is restored. Normalcy returns. Call off the therapy.
The Bulls found themselves Sunday. Just in the nick of time.“They played like they are,“ said New York coach Pat Riley in a way only he, and perhaps Jean Paul Sartre, could say it. But it was certainly true enough. The Bulls actually built a lead and held it, actually took the ball to the Knicks and came away without wounds, actually broke the 100-point barrier. The defending champs absorbed every bit of energy from a Stadium crowd positively throbbing with emotion and knocked out the Knicks 110-81 to advance to the Eastern Conference finals against the Cleveland Cavaliers. That series begins here Tuesday. “Never a Doubt“ read the message on the giant scoreboard overhead as the final minutes ebbed in the last game of the best-of-seven. But who was anyone kidding? This series was a hacking cough that wouldn`t go away. A pain in the Bulls` neck. And back and shoulders and ankles, for that matter. It took a reawakening to move on, to preserve the title that was at least partly responsible for this pressure-filled seven games to begin with. And the Bulls delivered. There was Scottie Pippen with his second-career triple double, getting 17 points, 11 rebounds and 11 assists. There was Michael Jordan with 18 points in the first quarter, 29 in the half and 42 on the day. There was Horace Grant with a hard-earned 14 points, six rebounds, four blocked shots and four steals.
And there was a Bulls team that found the perfect blend of up-tempo offense and defensive abandon that had fueled them during the 82-game regular season, but had been only a memory against the Knicks. There was also the 30 points off the bench and a 58 percent team shooting day. And well, pretty much everything Bulls fans were expecting in this last headache-filled week and a half. “You`ve got to give New York credit,“ Jordan said. “They woke us up, if anything. We went through the series sleepwalking, we came out this game with our backs to the wall and we responded. “It seemed like the old Bulls that everyone expected. It was a great response to the pressure. Now it`s just a matter of maintaining that effort.“ The effort began from the opening minutes, when it was evident from the very first offensive series that the Bulls were not about to back down. Where earlier in the series they would pull up for outside jumpers, the Bulls drove it inside. And where on previous occasions they would be pushed backward on defense, they dug in. “It was a tough enough series that we knew we had to bring out the best in us today and we knew we had to penetrate more,“ Pippen said. “It was a great feeling.“ It had to be especially great for Pippen, who endured more than a week of criticism from the media and fans as he struggled to find his rhythm despite a sprained ankle and wrist. He was a different man Sunday, going to the bucket with his patented finger roll, cutting around screens and draining his feathery jumper, plus hauling down the high-bouncing rebounds to start the Bulls` break. The Bulls led by eight after one quarter, a positive sign in that the leader after the first period had been the victor in each of the previous six games. But there were hardly any sighs of relief. Instead there was a sense of defiance by the Bulls, who often initiated the first contact and jumped into the Knicks` faces whenever it was necessary and sometimes when it wasn`t. A double technical on Jordan and Xavier McDaniel late in the first quarter followed a bit of jawing and some pushing between Pippen, McDaniel and Anthony Mason.
If it meant no more than a changed attitude from the Bulls, that was enough. “I thought it was a good move,“ said Pippen. “It showed we weren`t going to back down.“ It translated into loose balls retrieved and weak passes intercepted. The Bulls built their lead up to 11 in the second quarter, clung to a five-point lead at the half and blew it open in the third. Two days of rest had to help both teams, who were playing their fifth game in nine days. But it was most evident with the Bulls. After the Knicks outscored them 6-0 early in the third, closing the Bulls` lead to 60-57, coach Phil Jackson called time and the Bulls emerged with a renewed purpose. “They collected themselves,“ Riley said. “We couldn`t drive or hit the gaps that were there earlier. Their defense picked up big-time. It was a defense I hadn`t seen from them all series, to be quite frank.“ There were blocked shots, steals off half-court traps and a face-up defensive pressure the Knicks did not have the energy to combat. “Our whole defensive effort in the second half rose to a higher level,“ said Jackson. The result? A run of 10-2 after the timeout and 19-7 the remainder of the third quarter, which left the Bulls with a 15-point lead and the Knicks-who managed just 13 points on 26 percent shooting-with an insurmountable hurdle. “That third quarter took the heart out of them,“ said B.J. Armstrong. Armstrong`s three-pointer over Mark Jackson to give the Bulls an 11-point lead at 70-59, and another fallaway jumper to close the period at 79-64, were as big as they came. The Bulls outscored the Knicks 18-6 in a killer span of a fourth quarter in which everything clicked. When Patrick Ewing, who performed admirably, scoring 22 points with nine rebounds, drew his fifth foul with the Bulls up by 23, the “Hey-Hey, Goodbyes“ began. By the time John Starks collected his sixth with 33 seconds left, the taunting was mere revelry. “We were upset about how we had been playing,“ Armstrong said, “and today we looked in the mirror and got back to playing Bulls basketball.“ John Paxson said the Bulls played with “a sense of urgency.“ Jordan called the entire series “a slap in the face.“ Pippen simply called it “sweet.“ And that it was. Finally.


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