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NBA PLAYOFFS

Odd Couple Comes Through for Chicago

Pro basketball: Rodman's energy and and Jordan's scoring lead Bulls past Hawks and into Eastern Conference finals.

May 14, 1997|BILL DWYRE | TIMES SPORTS EDITOR

CHICAGO — Chicago's wonderful pro basketball team, led by one player who is the full bull and one who is just full of bull, finished off the Atlanta Hawks in the Eastern Conference semifinals of the NBA playoffs here Tuesday night.

Michael Jordan, on an off-shooting night of nine for 23 from the floor, still led the way with 24 points in the Bulls' 107-92 victory. It was a victory that sent Chicago's defending champions into the Eastern Conference semifinals against the winner of the New York Knicks-Miami Heat series, currently led by the Knicks, 3-1, going into tonight's game at Miami.

Dennis Rodman, on an on-shooting night of four for 10, actually helped the Bulls in ways other than attracting attention and league fines. Rodman, in double scoring digits about as often as Jordan is not, ended up with 12 points, including a pair of three-point baskets. Indeed, for this night, the worm turned into a scorer.

But just as predictable as it was that Jordan would continue to be a man for all seasons and Rodman a man for no reasons, it was predictable that the Bulls would wrap this series up here in Game 5.

They lead the NBA in home-playoff winning percentage with 81-28, a .743 mark, just ahead of the Lakers' 200-71 and .738. And they were playing in the shiny new United Center, where they have a 16-3 playoff record and were in front of the usual warm, fuzzy, ga-ga local crowd of 24,544. That marked the 483rd consecutive sellout for the Bulls, dating to Nov. 17, 1987 and including many years in decrepit old Chicago Stadium.

The Bulls, getting a shocking offensive spurt from Rodman late in the first quarter, ran off to a 33-27 lead that stretched quickly to 40-27 early in the second. After that, the game Hawks kept chipping away as best they could, but never got it closer than seven points at 84-77 early in the final period.

"Everytime we got it close, there was a foul called or we didn't defend the perimeter," said Lenny Wilkens, Atlanta coach. "Then they'd hit a shot and that will kill you."

So will rebounding statistics that showed the Bulls beating the Hawks on the offensive boards, 25-3.

Rodman, whose job it is--between posing in the near-nude for covers for his books or kicking sideline camermen in the groin--to rebound, gathered in nine of those, including four on the offensive boards.

"He gave us great energy off the bench tonight," Bulls' Coach Phil Jackson said.

Rodman also gave the game various story lines, as usual, starting with the morning Chicago Tribune, which did a large story exploring the premise of whether the NBA referees, after putting up with a long season of Dennis the Menace, would actually let him play the least bit aggressively anymore.

Hanging from one of the rafters was a sign playing to the theme: "Let the Worm off the hook."

That story line then grew prior to the game, when the word spread that Darrel Garretson, head of NBA officials, had been fired Tuesday. Local radio stations heard that and ran with it, gleefully leaving their listeners with the thought that, just maybe, the league was saying that Garretson's refs had, indeed, been too tough of Rodman.

But the truth was that Garretson was not fired. He, in fact, was at the game and, according to NBA vice-president Brian McIntyre, got a contract extension earlier this season.

So Rodman, just to make sure there was no doubt that he would be a big deal again, after a few games of playing badly or almost not at all, finished his night by engaging Hawk center Dikembe Mutombo in a pushing match with just over two minutes left. Rodman got one technical for the initial contact, then one more for verbally taunting Mutombo, meaning that--surprise, surprise--he was ejected from the game.

As he left the floor, Rodman tore off his jersey and tossed it into the crowd, where the Bulls' faithful scrambled for it.

Separate from the sideshows, Jordan directed the tempo and made sure that the likes of Steve Kerr, 15 points, and hard-driving former Clipper Brian Williams, 12 points and eight of his 10 rebounds off the offensive board, stayed in the mix enough to win.

In the end, as usual, Jordan was the real difference. Monday night, Placido Domingo played here. Tuesday night, Jordan was the maestro.

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