Bulls 105, Knicks 103
NEW YORK (AP) _ Scottie Pippen made a statement for the first three quarters and Michael Jordan added the exclamation point as only he can.
Jordan scored 20 of his 34 points in the final 7 1/2 minutes, Pippen scored 33 and Luc Longley made two free throws with 5.4 seconds left after rebounding a rare Jordan miss as Chicago defeated New York 105-103 Thursday night.
``When it came time to assert myself, I did it in the fourth quarter,″ Jordan said. ``That was the story of the game.″
Indeed it was, but Jordan’s finish was only the final, hard-to-believe chapter on a night when there were subplots in abundance.
The first involved Pippen and Larry Johnson, who engaged in a war of insults after the last Knicks-Bulls game March 9. The two went at each other right from the start Thursday night, and Pippen got the better of the matchup with 18 first-quarter points.
Pippen had 31 entering the fourth quarter, then stepped aside and let Jordan work his magic.
``For the first three quarters I wasn’t doing nothing,″ Jordan said. ``Scottie was trying to prove something, and we let him prove it. I would do the same thing if I was in his shoes.
``It was like letting your little brother fight his own fight. When he got tired, big brother stepped in and helped him out,″ Jordan said.
Jordan scored nine straight Chicago points while being guarded by Allan Houston, helping pull Chicago to 91-90 with 5:14 left.
The Knicks then put Johnson on him, but Jordan made two jumpers and went 5-for-6 from the line to pull the Bulls into a 103-103 tie with 44 seconds left.
``I was surprised,″ Pippen said of the defensive switch. ``After being lit up by me, then he’s going to go on one of the greatest scorers in the game? Well, that’s not saying a lot about Van Gundy’s coaching.″
Pippen deflected an entry pass, grabbed the loose ball and called a timeout while falling out of bounds to give Chicago the ball with 27 seconds left.
``It’s a bad rule, but whether it was a good call or not, I don’t know,″ Knicks coach Jeff Van Gundy said.
Predictably, the ball went to Jordan. He faked John Starks off his feet to get an open 18-footer, but the ball rimmed out and was grabbed by Longley, who was fouled by Patrick Ewing on the putback attempt.
He made the two free throws to gave Chicago its first lead since early in the third quarter and complete the Bulls’ comeback from a 10-point, fourth-quarter deficit.
New York still had a chance to win, but Jordan made Chris Childs alter his shot on a drive to the basket, then got a hand on the ball as Charles Oakley was ready to shoot from underneath with less than a second left.
The Bulls improved to 68-10 with their fifth straight victory and retained a chance to match last year’s NBA-record 72 victories. Chicago has already clinched homecourt advantage throughout the postseason.
``We’re still taking them one at a time and let ’em add up. If they add up to 72, fine. If not, we still have the playoffs to look forward to,″ Jordan said.
Ewing had 20 points and Johnson 19 for New York, which lost its third straight home game. Houston and Starks added 15 each, Oakley had 14 points and 12 rebounds and Childs had 12 points and 12 assists.
Notes: Charlie Ward made two free throws with 10:17 left for his first points in seven games, a stretch of 104 minutes. The free throws gave the Knicks their final 10-point lead. ... Pippen shot 11-for-19 from the field. Jordan was 12-for-26, including 7-for-10 in the fourth quarter. ... Every Knicks starter but Houston (5-for-13) shot at least 50 percent. ... Chicago improved to 35-7 in back-to-back games, 17-4 on the first night and 17-4 on the second, as was the case Thursday. The Bulls, who are 20-3 without Dennis Rodman, haven’t lost to the same team twice this season. They can match last season’s 72-10 record with victories in their final four games against Detroit, Miami, Toronto and the Knicks.