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Bulls Turn to Other Guys to Regain Control of Series

Eastern Conference: Kukoc, Williams play key roles in less-than-perfect 100-80 victory over Hawks.


ATLANTA — They don't make defensive players of the year the way they used to.

The first suggestion the House of Mutombo wasn't quite ready for a full-scale assault on the Bulls' dynasty came early Saturday, when its namesake, Dikembe Mutombo, blocked Brian Williams' shot, slammed him to the floor and did his famous finger-wag at him.

Busy making his point, Mutombo failed to notice the ball bouncing around at his feet, finally rolling to Scottie Pippen. Mutombo was still wagging his finger at Williams when Pippen threw down a two-handed dunk over his head.

Fortunately or not, the Hawks didn't lose by two points. Instead, they stiffened up--try 28 points in the second half--and were plowed under by the still pale-looking Bulls, 100-80, who regained the home-court advantage they surrendered Thursday and took a 2-1 lead in this Eastern Conference semifinal series.

"I wasn't worried," Michael Jordan said. "I just thought we had to prove ourselves.

"There are a lot of doubters out there and we created that atmosphere of doubt with the way we played the first five [playoff] games."

The doubters aren't going away.

With or without Dennis Rodman, who was demoted to the bench and played only seven minutes, the Bulls still looked like a team waiting to be taken. Jordan and Pippen both shot eight for 20. The Hawks took an early 10-point lead and it wasn't the big guys who rode to the rescue.

Said Jordan of his 21-point day: "I still stunk it up a little bit."

Instead, the heroes were Toni Kukoc and . . . Brian Williams?

Yes, Williams, the famous ex-Clipper, whose Bull "audition"--an upcoming free agent, he has only been there a month and figures to sign elsewhere this summer--had been going slowly until Saturday when he came off the bench to score 14 points with five rebounds.

"He was very good today," Coach Phil Jackson said. "He went from the outhouse to the penthouse in a few days. One day ago, he thought he might be out a week with a bad knee."

Close students of Clipper history may remember Williams wasn't known for playing hurt, but the Bulls are in the playoffs (and he's playing for a contract) so out he went.

The Hawks, struggling, but not as much as the Bulls, had a 51-41 lead with 48 seconds left in the half but the Bulls closed it out with a 5-1 run.

In reply, the Hawks rolled over and died. They made eight shots in the second half, in 32 attempts. The always-deadly Mookie Blaylock--he either guns down the opponent or shoots his own team in the foot--who had made eight of nine three-pointers in Game 2, found Bulls crowding him everywhere and went one for six on three-pointers.

The Bulls went on a 17-4 run in the fourth quarter with a lineup of Judd Buechler, Steve Kerr, Williams, Kukoc and Jordan--and Mike didn't do any heavy lifting, scoring one basket, on a rebound.

Rodman played without a brace, but it only seemed to help him accumulate fouls faster--three personals and a technical. Afterward, Jackson called him a "marked man" (yawn). Dennis decried the NBA referees' conspiracy (double yawn).

No one is sure if the knee is the problem, or flu, or the head, nor is Jackson hanging on the latest medical bulletin.

"We'll just have to give him the opportunity to play," Jackson said. "He's a player, he's a Chicago Bull and he has to have the opportunity to go out and there and display what his talent is. And he's got to maintain the demeanor and the mood and the temperament that's befitting the mood of the game, and not create situations. He has another opportunity."

Just to prove the day was a complete waste, rather than acknowledge he had learned his lesson, Mutombo said his teammates let him down and he didn't wag his finger at Williams.

"Guys know if I block a shot, somebody needs to come there and pick up the ball," Mutombo said. "Sometime I block and pick it up the same time, but sometime you block it because you're flying . . .

"I don't get a $500 tech [for taunting] for nothing. I think the league and I have spoken about it already. I usually wave to the fans."

The fans left early. Like everyone else, they were fooled into expecting too much from the Hawks, but only for a day.

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