Bulls 90, Jazz 86
CHICAGO (AP) _ Call the Chicago Bulls champions again _ and keep the accolades coming. This wasn’t just the crowning of a champion, this was the affirmation of a dynasty.
This was a moment when the Bulls truly showed their greatness.
In a game Chicago trailed most of the time, Steve Kerr _ not Michael Jordan _ hit a last-second shot Friday night and the Bulls beat the Utah Jazz 90-86 for their fifth NBA title in seven years.
``The fifth one is great. They gave us a hell of a series, but we stepped up like champions do,″ Scottie Pippen said.
Yes they did, despite facing a team that just wouldn’t quit. But the Jazz couldn’t avoid making crucial mistakes, including a botched inbounds play with five seconds left when the ball ended up in the Bulls’ hands.
That cost them a chance to become the first team to take the Bulls to a seventh game in a championship series.
The Jazz lost Game 6 even though they didn’t allow Jordan to beat them as he did in Games 1, 2 and 5. This time, when the Bulls needed a tiebreaking shot in the final few seconds, Jordan passed to Kerr.
The pass came with the clock ticking inside seven seconds and the shot clock down to :02. Kerr, left alone as the Jazz double-teamed Jordan, sank an 18-footer to break an 86-all tie, the ball snapping the net as the shot clock hit zero.
``Michael won Game 1 in the same situation, and we knew they wouldn’t let him do it again,″ Kerr said. ``At the last timeout, I was sitting down by Mike, watching him. He sat there for about 30 seconds, then he turned to me and said, `Be ready, Stockton’s coming off me. I said `OK, I’ll make it.‴
The winning shot was reminiscent of John Paxson’s 3-pointer with 3.9 seconds left that gave Chicago a 99-98 victory in the ’93 title-clinching sixth game against the Phoenix Suns. But in that game, it was Horace Grant, not Jordan, who made the pass for the winning shot.
While Jordan scored 39 points and won his fifth Finals MVP, it was Kerr’s offense and Toni Kukoc’s defense that made the difference in the closing seconds.
After Kerr’s basket, the Jazz called timeout and had to inbound at midcourt with five seconds left. Bryon Russell tried to throw a long pass, but Kukoc tipped it and Utah never regained possession.
Pippen dived for the loose ball, tipping it ahead to Kukoc, who streaked downcourt for a dunk just before the buzzer sounded.
Just like that, the Bulls had done it again, just like 1991, 1992, 1993 and 1996: They were champions, Jordan was the Finals MVP and a Western Conference opponent came up short.
When the buzzer sounded, an avalanche of metallic streamers and confetti fell to the court. Pippen jumped into Jordan’s arms, the two hugged and spun around and coach Phil Jackson ran to join them.
It may have been their final moments together with the Bulls. There have been questions about whether the team will be kept together, and Jordan made an impassioned plea for the chance at another run in 1998.
``Look at the joy of this night and all the other nights when we won the championship,″ he said. ``This team is entitled to an opportunity to continue to be successful.
``There has to be some sense of loyalty to myself, Scottie, Phil, even Dennis with all the different colors he may wear. We’re entitled to keep what we have until we lose it,″ Jordan continued. ``Have a sense of respect for those who have laid the groundwork so we can defend what we’ve attained in five of the last seven years.
``Phil should be the head coach, and I shouldn’t be put in the position to play for another coach. It’s as simple as that, I will not choose to play for another coach.″
The three of them, Jordan, Pippen and Jackson, are the only members of the Bulls to be around for all five titles. But they barely seemed to enjoy this season until late Friday night.
``No, I didn’t enjoy this journey _ it’s been filled with injuries and suspensions, but we had a great run,″ Jackson said.
Kerr said: ``Last year was so much fun, but I wouldn’t characterize this year as fun. This was a grind, but that makes this one much better.″
And aside from Kerr’s shot and Kukoc’s clinching dunk, Jordan and Pippen practically did it all in Game 6.
Jordan had his highest scoring game of the series and Pippen scored 23, the only other Chicago player in double figures.
The two combined for 15 points in the fourth quarter when Chicago overcame a Utah team that managed to maintain an advantage most of the game.
Russell hit his fourth 3-pointer and Howard Eisley hit a tough hanging jumper toward the end of the third period to put the Jazz up 70-61. Jud Buechler pulled the Bulls within six, 70-64, at the end of the quarter by making a 3-pointer off a scramble for an offensive rebound with 27 seconds left.
The Bulls quickly made up almost all of their deficit by starting the fourth quarter with a flurry. A pair of foul shots by Pippen, a jumper by Kerr and a pull-up 3-pointer by Pippen left Chicago trailing 73-71 just over 1 1/2 minutes in.
Utah failed to score on its next two possessions, and the United Center erupted with 8:55 left when Kerr buried a 3-pointer from the corner to give the Bulls a 74-73 lead, their first since early in the first quarter.
The Jazz took the lead back when Jeff Hornacek pulled up for a 3-pointer with 6:42 left. But they then seemed to succumb to the pressure.
First, Shandon Anderson was wide open for a dunk that would have put Utah ahead by three. Instead, he inexplicably tried a reverse layup and missed.
Jordan came down and drilled a pull-up jumper, giving Chicago an 82-81 lead. Jordan and Karl Malone then traded baskets, Jordan hit a wide open jumper with 2:01 left and Russell drilled his fifth 3-pointer of the night to tie it at 86-86 with 1:44 left.
A series of misses followed.
Pippen missed twice from in close, Dennis Rodman missed a tip, Malone missed a turnaround, Jordan missed a drive and Anderson _ a rookie who drew the defensive assignment on Jordan for most of the fourth quarter _ blew a left-handed layup attempt with 28 seconds left.
Pippen went up to block the shot and briefly hung on the rim. Goaltending was not called, despite protests from Jazz coach Jerry Sloan.
The Jazz were the fifth Western Conference opponent to face Chicago in the final round. They ended up the same as the Lakers, Portland, Phoenix and Seattle _ going home second-best.
Utah gave basketball fans everywhere a taste of unselfish team play and a glimpse of the greatness of future Hall of Famers Malone and Stockton.
But the world also got to see the latest chapter in the Bulls run of supremacy, and the argument can be made that this dynasty has become the second-greatest in the history of the league, second only to the Boston Celtics of the late ’50s and ’60s _ a team that won 10 championships in 11 years.
This season’s accomplishments were greeted with an almost ho-hum expectedness. They won 69 regular-season games, an accomplishment achieved only once before, yet went into the postseason being called vulnerable by a league searching for hope in the fact that the Bulls didn’t always look perfect.
Yet they won.
The Jazz could have _ maybe should have _ won Games 1 and 5, but instead went down to heartbreaking defeats as Jordan won the opener with a buzzer-beating 3-pointer and took over the fifth game with one of the more memorable performances in NBA Finals history, scoring 38 points despite the flu.
In the end, Jordan did it with a pass to Kerr.
Someone else got to make the championship shot, and somehow that had to make this one seem all the better to the Bulls _ a team that became a dynasty Friday night.
Notes: Malone led Utah with 21 points, Jeff Hornacek had 18, Russell 17 and Stockton 13. ... The Bulls arena operating crew played music at earsplitting levels, but Todd Martin, the NBA official monitoring a noise meter, said it was at or below the allowable standard of 95 decibels. During Games 3, 4 and 5 in Salt Lake City, the league ordered the Jazz to turn down the volume on the arena rock and the public address announcer. ... Rodman drew Stockton’s third foul in the third quarter by flopping and drawing a charge. The refs seemed to make up for it by not calling fouls when Jordan was hacked on his next two shots.