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Perseverance Pays for Bulls : NBA playoffs: They stop Smith in final seconds and beat Knicks behind Jordan's 29 points. Chicago leads series, 3-2.


NEW YORK — Here's a sequence you won't see on the New York Knicks' highlight film.

Charles Smith goes up for the game-winning layup. Horace Grant blocks it.

The ball comes back to Smith who starts to go up again but is stripped by Michael Jordan.

It comes back to Smith who goes up and is blocked from behind by Scottie Pippen.

It comes back to Smith again who goes up again and is blocked by Pippen again.

Four strikes and you're out. The Bulls rebounded, B.J. Armstrong hit an icing-on-the-cake layup at the buzzer and the Bulls won, 97-94, behind Michael's Jordan's 29 points, 14 assists and 10 rebounds.

The Bulls lead the Eastern Conference finals, 3-2, with Game 6 on Friday in Chicago.

Four strikes and the Knicks will be out there, too.

They had won 27 in a row in Madison Square Garden, a streak that lasted four months and five days, but they lost the game they had to win. They helped the Bulls wherever possible, like the free-throw line where they missed 15 of 35 free throws.

"Maybe this is the most defining moment in this team's life," said a taut Knick Coach Pat Riley. "This was a painful loss. When you get to this level, it hurts.

"You're going to have your back planted against a wall a number of times in your life and this is one of those."

At that moment, Smith was sitting in the Knicks' dressing room, with a shirt and sport jacket on and ice packs on his knees, suggesting coyly he'd been fouled.

"We're a team," Smith said, "and as a team, we're not going to cry and beg for fouls. I can say, if that play happens again, I'll do it the same way. People just have to look at the replay and judge for themselves."

Smith, the former Clipper, is often criticized as "soft." It's a rap he'll have to try to beat again another day.

It was a tense, disjointed game, with Jordan missing 10 of his first 14 shots, then catching fire late in the third quarter and taking over the offense completely, scoring 15 points in a row.

With 9:19 to play, the Bulls led, 85-77, the biggest lead for either team all evening, but Patrick Ewing, firing to beat the shot clock, made the third three-pointer of his career and the Knick rally was on.

With 4:50 to play, Ewing made a 16-footer, was fouled and, surprise, made the free throw to put the Knicks ahead, 88-87.

The lead seesawed. With 1:36 to play, Ewing made one of two free throws to give New York its last lead, 93-92.

But Jordan drove, drew the defense and pitched to Armstrong in the left corner. Armstrong's three-pointer dropped with 1:16 to play and the Bulls were ahead, 95-93.

With 52 seconds to play, Smith hit one of two free throws cutting it to 95-94.

Then Ewing blocked Stacey King's 15-footer and the Knicks had the ball and a chance to win the game.

Ewing drove on King, got tangled up with him and threw the ball off-balance to Smith, alone under the basket. The Bulls tried to recover. Grant got there first, followed by Jordan and Pippen. Smith got his famous 0 for 4 that will forever live in infamy in the heart of Knick fans.

Finally, Grant got the ball. He got it to Jordan who got it to Armstrong, behind everyone as the clock ran down. Armstrong's layup barely beat the buzzer but the game was already over.

"It would be easy to go back and look at it (the Smith sequence) and see a foul but we can't get it back," said Rivers.

"But to me, out dream is still alive. I for one am not giving up. I've been on the other side (as a member of the 1988 Hawks in a series against the Celtics). I've been up, 3-2, and lost the last two games.

"This team has played with heart all year. This is the biggest test we've has in our lives. We're not laying down, I guarantee you that. They're going to have to take it from us. Emotionally it just hurts. It just hurts to lose at home. You go back and think about all the work you've put in all year. I've never worked as hard in my life for something."

Some years, it goes like that.

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