For Once, Jordan Plays Like Mere Mortal

MONDAY, JUNE 9, 1997

Key to the game

Even the NBA’s greatest clutch player can’t win them all.

Michael Jordan has made so many winning shots, led so many fourth-quarter rallies and turned anger and frustration into dazzling domination so many times, that the spectacular has become routine.

When he doesn’t quite do it, it’s big news. And Jordan didn’t quite do it Sunday night as the Utah Jazz beat the Chicago Bulls 78-73 to even the NBA Finals at two games apiece.

“There are going to be games I can’t live up to the fantasy or the hype that people have built Michael Jordan up to be,” he said.

“I guess I looked like a mortal person at times.”

For three quarters, Jordan was awful, at least by Jordan standards. He missed nine of 10 shots during one stretch and was scoreless, that’s right scoreless, in the third quarter, going 0-for-4 from the field.

Jordan still led the Bulls with 22 points, but he was just 11-for-27 from the field. In the second and third quarters, he was 1-for-8. He scored 12 points in the fourth quarter but, incredibly, never went to the foul line the entire game.

“I don’t know when the last time I went a game without getting any free throws,” Jordan said. “This is not Chicago Stadium. I’m pretty sure at Chicago Stadium, I would have gotten some free throws.”

The ultimate insult came with 4:16 left in the game. Jordan drove to the basket, but Greg Ostertag swept his long arm around Michael’s back and knocked the ball away for a turnover.

On the way down the court, Jordan’s face was an angry sneer, an unmistakable signal that opponents long ago learned to dread.

The next time down the court, Jordan made a 6-footer. Then he had an uncontested stuff. After that it was a 15-foot fadeaway and Chicago was up 73-69 with 1:47 remaining.

But Jordan was on the wrong end of the big play that ignited Utah’s decisive final surge.

When the series moved to Utah, the Jazz switched Byron Russell onto Jordan. At 6-foot-7, Russell has made it more difficult for Jordan to do his usual damage.

Russell was pestering Jordan with 1:35 to play and Chicago still up 73-69. One more basket might have clinched it for the Bulls.

But Jordan didn’t see John Stockton coming at him. Stockton stripped the ball and headed for a breakaway layup.

“Stockton was able to anticipate right on the money,” Utah’s Karl Malone said. “That’s one of Michael’s favorite moves, and Stockton read it perfectly.”

A lot of superstars would have given up on the play as Stockton ran down the court. Jordan didn’t. He caught Stockton just as the Utah guard was going up for the layup and blocked the shot against the backboard. He was called for a foul even though replays showed little contact.

“I thought I got it clean,” Jordan said.

Utah coach Jerry Sloan, unsolicited, complimented Jordan’s effort on the play.

“That’s what competing is all about,” Sloan said. “He ended up fouling him. If you like to see people compete, that’s something you can see, in my opinion, and Michael Jordan has always done that. I thought it was a good, hard, clean play.”


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