Michael Jordan didn't like Jeff Van Gundy calling him a con man, and he didn't like the New York Knicks thinking they could beat the Chicago Bulls.
So Jordan responded to the challenge the way he knows best, scoring 51 points--the most by an NBA player this season--in leading the Bulls to an 88-87 victory over the Knicks on Tuesday night at Chicago.
The Knicks used a 17-2 run to cut a 17-point deficit to 80-78 with 6:22 left. Allan Houston, who had missed 12 of his first 13 shots, made two three-pointers and a jumper to spark the surge.
But Jordan scored Chicago's final eight points for an 88-81 lead, and a three-pointer by Houston and another at the buzzer by Chris Childs were not enough to bring the Knicks back.
"I was prepared to do whatever it took to win," said Jordan, who reached the 50-point mark for the 36th time in his career. "There were times where things were going so well everything seemed to be in slow motion. I didn't rush. I just relaxed and played."
Van Gundy, in his first full season as the Knicks' coach, said recently that Jordan tries to "con" fellow NBA players into thinking he's their friend.
"His way is to befriend them, soften them up, try to make them feel he cares about them," Van Gundy said. "Then he goes out there and tries to destroy them. The first step as a player is to realize that and don't go for it."
The comments resurfaced in Tuesday's Chicago Tribune, where Jordan saw them.
"It was probably a tactical mistake by the coach of the Knicks to attack Michael in the press. I thought he went out and played with a vendetta, a score to settle," Bull Coach Phil Jackson said.
After Jordan reached the 51-point mark with a 20-foot, fade-away jumper over Houston--giving the Bulls an 88-81 lead with 26.7 seconds left--he yelled at Van Gundy.
"Some choice words," Jordan said. "I guess I didn't make any friends out there tonight."
Jordan said Van Gundy's comments were misguided.
"I think they were more geared to motivating his players. But I don't think, on the court, they have befriended me," said Jordan, who counts New York's Patrick Ewing and Charles Oakley as friends.
"I don't go on the court expecting to make friends. But when I leave the court, I don't take what happened on the court away from me. We're only playing a game. I don't view it as a war away from the game. If he feels like I take advantage of my friends, that's fine."
The league's all-time leader in points per game, Jordan was 18 for 30 from the floor, including five for eight from three-point range, and 10 for 11 from the line. The rest of the Bulls shot 35% from the floor, and Jordan scored 12 of the Bulls' 14 fourth-quarter points.
Ewing scored 19 points for New York.
Miami 94, Atlanta 91--Tim Hardaway scored 24 points, including a pair of three-pointers in the final two minutes at Miami, and the Heat snapped Atlanta's 10-game winning streak.
The loss was Atlanta's first in 1997. The Hawks had won three in a row on the road, and they still have a 17-game home winning streak.
Hardaway made a three-point shot for a 91-86 lead with 1:57 to go, then another one to make it 94-88 with 1:04 remaining.
Dikembe Mutombo made three free throws and Hardaway missed two shots to give Atlanta a chance to force overtime, but Henry James and Steve Smith missed three-point shots in the final 10 seconds.
Charlotte 114, Houston 108--At Charlotte, Glen Rice scored a season-high 42 points, including 19 in the final quarter, as the Hornets snapped the Rockets' four-game winning streak.
Rice became the first Hornet player to score 30 or more points in four consecutive games.
Clyde Drexler had 39 points and Hakeem Olajuwon 26 for Houston.
Golden State 105, Dallas 93--Latrell Sprewell scored 16 of his career-high 46 points in the fourth quarter as the Warriors defeated the Mavericks for their third victory in four games.
Sprewell, who eclipsed his previous career high of 43 set Dec. 15 against Washington, also added a career-high 10 assists, six rebounds and five steals.
Jim Jackson scored 22 points for Dallas, which lost for the fifth time in six games.
Orlando 93, Washington 88--Rony Seikaly scored 26 points and Penny Hardaway delivered a clutch three-point shot and layup down the stretch to help the Magic hold off the Bullets at Orlando.
The victory was the fifth in six games for Orlando, which improved to 6-2 since Hardaway and Nick Anderson returned from the injured list two weeks ago.
Hardaway finished with 19 points for the Magic. Rod Strickland led the Bullets with 21 points.
Toronto 118, Minnesota 106--Walt Williams scored 32 points and tied a club record with six three-pointers to lead the Raptors at Toronto.
Williams, whose sixth three-pointer with 10:05 left in the fourth quarter gave the Raptors a 95-75 lead, was 12 for 20 from the field as Toronto shot a season-high 55.7%.
As a team, the Raptors were 12 for 20 on three-point shots.
James Robinson led the Timberwolves with 21 points off the bench.
Indiana 92, Milwaukee 89--Rik Smits scored a season-high 25 points and the Pacers, despite missing four free throws in the final 19.2 seconds, held off the Bucks at Milwaukee.
Derrick McKey and Eddie Johnson each made one of two free throws in the final three seconds after the Bucks rallied within one point.
Ray Allen missed a 30-footer at the buzzer for the Bucks, who were led by Glenn Robinson's 29 points. Vin Baker added 22.