One More Time for Bulls, Pacers
CHICAGO (AP) _ This is the day Michael Jordan has avoided for six years. This is the kind of game Larry Bird always thrived on.
Now is the time when the dynasty known as the Chicago Bulls will live or die. Now is the time when the Indiana Pacers will try to overcome their failures of 1994 and 1995.
It’s Game 7 of the Eastern Conference finals.
Win, or go home.
``Don’t choke,″ was the advice Bird gave to his Indiana Pacers on Saturday as they prepared to play the biggest game of their careers. Tipoff is 7:40 p.m. EST.
Bird went through eight Game 7s as a player with the Boston Celtics, going 6-2.
Jordan has played in only two Game 7s, going 1-1, which makes this an unfamiliar precipice he stands upon. This could be his team’s expiration date.
``They know anything can happen in a Game 7, although they haven’t been involved in that many of them,″ Bird said. ``In a Game 7, one ankle twist or someone missing shots they don’t usually miss puts pressure on them.
``They feel they can win the basketball game because they’re back in Chicago and the defending champions. So it’s going to be tough. We understand that for us to get where we want to go, we need to play a great game _ and I think we will,″ Bird said.
Bird was not with the Pacers in 1994 and 1995 when they lost each time in Game 7 of the conference finals _ by four points at New York and by 24 at Orlando.
The Bulls haven’t played a Game 7 with Jordan on the team since 1992, when they defeated New York by 29 points on the way to their second championship.
Jordan has played only one other Game 7 in his career, losing to Detroit in 1990 when he was still without a ring.
``We’re going to win Game 7,″ Jordan said following Indiana’s 92-89 victory Friday night in Game 6. ``I don’t make promises. I don’t even make them to my wife. But we will win Game 7.″
This will be the first Game 7 of this year’s playoffs, and the first in a conference finals since Seattle defeated Utah in 1996.
The home team has won every game in this series, although both the Bulls and the Pacers won a game on the opponent’s home court during the regular season.
Jordan and Scottie Pippen have mostly carried the Bulls, while the Pacers needed a heroic effort from Reggie Miller in Games 3 and 4 and a huge effort from Rik Smits, Dale Davis and Travis Best in Game 6.
The Bulls again complained about the officiating following Game 6, especially a non-call when Jordan tripped and fell while driving to the basket with the clock ticking inside five seconds.
``It’s clear that Mike slipped by himself late in the game,″ Travis Best said.
The referees have more or less called an even series ever since Bird complained after Game 2 that Pippen was getting away with overly physical defense.
Jordan has been called for at least four offensive fouls _ calls that are almost never made against him _ and hasn’t been getting as many trips to the foul line as a result of ticky-tack touch fouls.
The result has been an almost unending wail from the Bulls, whose complaining has raised eyebrows coming from a team that would be expected to have a little more class.
To hear them tell it, they’ve won three games and had three games taken away by the officials.
``They seem to have had their way throughout the years, and pretty much they get all the calls,″ Dale Davis said. ``I don’t see why they should complain.″
The Pacers see the bellyaching as symptomatic of the lack of respect the Bulls are giving them. Instead of being gracious losers and complimenting the Pacers’ effort, the Bulls have gone out of their way to blame the refs.
``I’ve been hearing that we’re a speed bump, that they were going to sweep us or beat us in five games,″ Reggie Miller said. ``The bottom line is they’re in a Game 7.
``They’re the defending champs, and all we’re doing is showing up and finding a way to win basketball games. If they don’t want to give us credit, that’s fine,″ Miller said.
The winner of Game 7 will go on to face the Utah Jazz in the NBA Finals beginning Wednesday night.