Repeat 3-Peat, Bulls Win Again!


If this really was his last NBA championship, what a fabulous finish Michael Jordan delivered.

Making the kind of game-deciding play that has defined his unmatched career, Jordan almost single-handedly gave the Bulls one more and perhaps one last championship as Chicago defeated the Utah Jazz 87-86 Sunday in Game 6 of the NBA Finals.

Jordan scored 45 points his second-highest total in a finals but it was his uncanny ability to win games on his own that made the difference in the end as Chicago won its sixth title of the decade.

With the clock ticking inside of 20 seconds, Jordan snuck up behind Karl Malone, swatted the ball away and dribbled upcourt. The sound of 20,000 people gasping filled the Delta Center as Jazz fans feared what was about to happen.

"The moment started to come, and once you get the moment, you see the court and you see what the defense wants to do. I saw that moment," Jordan said.

He pulled up 19 feet away, nearly faked Bryon Russell out of his sneakers and let fly from 17 feet with 5.2 seconds left.

"I let the time tick to where I felt I had it where I wanted it, " Jordan said. "I stopped, pulled up and had an easy jump shot."

As the ball swished through, Jordan stood there with his wrist perfectly bent in the follow-through almost as if he was saying he wanted to hold onto the feeling forever, especially if it was the final shot of his career.

"That's something that will be debated over the summer," Jordan said of his future.

The Jazz still had one more chance, but John Stockton missed a 3-pointer just before the buzzer.

Jordan ran to midcourt and held up six fingers to signify six championships one in every full season he has played this decade.

It was an incredible moment for the sport's greatest player, as dramatic as anything he has done in a title-clinching game throughout his magnificent career.

"Of all the championships we've won, this was the toughest," Jordan said. "It was a long road with lots of bumps."

What made this championship even more special was the way Jordan had to work in the clinching game. With Scottie Pippen severely hobbled by a sore back, Jordan pumped up 35 field goal attempts and 15 free throws.

He made 15 shots, including three 3-pointers, and had his highest scoring game in the finals since scoring 55 against Phoenix in 1993. He was rewarded with his sixth finals MVP trophy.

The Bulls have never lost a Game 6, clinching the title four previous times beating Portland in 1992, Phoenix in 1993, Seattle in 1996 and Utah in 1997 without having to face a seventh game.

Now, the basketball world awaits the answer to the question of the seaso: Will this be the final championship for the Bulls or even Jordan's final game?

"I can only hope and pray that Michael and Scottie will come back and defend the championship one more time," Bulls owner Jerry Reinsdorf said.

If they don't, Jordan left everyone with something special to remember him by.

In the best-played and perhaps hardest-fought game of the series, it looked like Malone and the Jazz were going to force a seventh game.

They made Jordan earn many of his points from the foul line, got a spirited performance from Malone (31 points) and led for most of the fourth quarter.

Russell gave the Jazz an 81-79 lead on two foul shots with 3:20 left, and Utah stayed ahead until Jordan made a pair of free throws with 59 seconds left, making it 83-all.

Stockton hit a 3-pointer for Utah with 42 seconds left, and Jordan made it 86-85 by making two foul shots with 37 seconds left.

That set up the sequence where Jordan made the defensive play of the game, leaving his man and coming around the baseline to sneak up behind Malone.

"We fought hard," Malone said. "The guys did a good job. It's a tough loss. Give them credit."

"I'm not a quitter. I've just got to get away for a while to think about things."

Pippen, a leading contender for the finals MVP until he had a poor Game 5, scored only eight points with four assists, three rebounds and two steals in 26 minutes, as he played in obvious pain.

Toni Kukoc had 15 points, Dennis Rodman had seven points and eight rebounds and Ron Harper scored eight.

Those contributions ended up being just enough to help the Bulls win the title of this era as Jordan, Pippen, Rodman and coach Phil Jackson may have played their last game together.

Jordan will be a free agent this summer and has spoke of retiring. Jackson has insisted that he doesn't expect to be back, and Pippen, Rodman and six others will be free agents.

"Gee, that's a good question," Jackson said of the Bulls' future. "I'll dodge that one right now."

The way things were going at the outset of Game 6, it looked like the Bulls might waltz away with the trophy.

Getting balanced scoring from Jordan, Pippen, Harper and Kukoc, the Bulls opened a 17-8 lead seven minutes into the game.

But Pippen then left to go to the locker room to have his back treated, and he took his team's momentum with him.

The Jazz quickly caught up, and Malone scored seven of Utah's final eight points in the quarter as Utah finished the period ahead 25-22.

A controversial call cost the Jazz a chance to go ahead by seven. Howard Eisley made a 3-pointer just before the shot clock expired, but referee Dick Bavetta waved it off and ruled it came late. The Bulls quickly pulled even, and the game stayed tight for the rest of the first half as Jordan, with 23 points, and Malone, with 20, carried their teams.

Utaled 49-45 entering the third quarter after shooting 61 percent in the first half, and it was 59-59 with 3:01 left in the third when Pippen again left for the locker room.

The Bulls scored only two more points the rest of the quarter both on Jordan going 1-for-2 at the line and Utah took a 66-61 lead into the fourth.

Pippen returned to the game with 9@1/2 minutes left and the Bulls trailing 70-67, and a 3-pointer by Steve Kerr tied the game 90 seconds later. Shandon Anderson answered with a three-point play, making it 73-70 before Jordan re-entered the game with 7:42 left.

Jordan quickly scored Chicago's next four points to give the Bulls a one-point edge, and there would be three more ties the rest of the way.

Russell gave the Jazz an 81-79 lead on two foul shots with 3:20 left, and Utah stayed ahead until Jordan made a pair of free throws with 59 seconds left, making it 83-all.

Notes:

  • Jazz owner Larry Miller, a devout Mormon who refused to attend Sunday games, was absent from his courtside seat.
  • One Jazz fan brought a handmade sign that read: "How Was the Parade?"
  • Harper missed Sunday morning's shootaround because of an upset stomach.
  • Howard Eisley of Utah played despite an inner-ear infection.
  • Jordan has scored at least 20 points in 35 consecutive finals games.