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NBA PLAYOFFS

Bulls Do It the Hard Way in Winning

Pro basketball: Despite off night and Rodman's ejection, Chicago comes back to defeat Atlanta, 100-97.

May 07, 1997|From Associated Press

CHICAGO — Michael Jordan and Scottie Pippen admitted it: The Chicago Bulls lucked out.

They played poorly for most of the game, lost Dennis Rodman in the third quarter on technical fouls and failed to match Atlanta's intensity in the first half. Nevertheless, the Bulls managed to defeat the Hawks, 100-97, on Tuesday night in the opener of the Eastern Conference semifinals.

"This was a close call," said Jordan, who had 34 points and 11 rebounds but scored only one point in the fourth quarter and made several uncharacteristic mistakes down the stretch.

"The positive thing we take from this game is we know we can play better--and we have to play better to be successful," Jordan said. "Hopefully, we can make it to the point where we're not shooting ourselves in our own foot. Luckily, we won the game."

The defending NBA champions won it on Pippen's three-point basket with 43.9 seconds left and can take a 2-0 series lead Thursday before the best-of-seven series shifts to Atlanta.

"You can look at it like we lucked out or whatever," said Pippen, whose 29-point performance included six three-pointers. "But we got back into it in the third quarter and did what we had to do to win. We're a championship team."

The Bulls rallied from a 16-point third-quarter deficit despite Rodman's ejection. Toni Kukoc also was assessed a technical, and the Bulls spent a good chunk of the game either whining to the officials or trying to calm each other down.

But not all of the Bulls lost their composure.

Pippen's winning three-pointer, after taking a handoff from Luc Longley and spotting up behind Longley's pick, snapped a 97-97 tie and finished the scoring.

Pippen, who has a reputation for playing poorly in the clutch and deferring to Jordan in important situations, also scored the clinching basket in the Bulls' first-round series sweep of Washington.

"I've never doubted him in the clutch," Jordan said. "That's something that's been overstated. I've always felt he could make big shots and he's done that for us."

The Hawks couldn't take advantage of Longley's two missed free throws with 34.5 seconds left and Jordan's missed layup with 10 seconds to go.

Blaylock, who had career playoff highs with 31 points and 12 rebounds, badly missed a three-pointer with about 35 seconds left, stepped on the sideline after taking an inbounds pass with 32 seconds to go and shot an airball on a three-point attempt at the buzzer.

Rodman received his second technical foul with 5:57 left in the third for taking a swipe at Dikembe Mutombo's face after Mutombo's pointed his index finger at Rodman. After leaving the court, Rodman knocked over a rack of basketballs and a garbage can on his way to the locker room.

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