Michael Jordan is so breathtakingly balletic on a basketball
court that it is easy to forget that he is also a predator.
Jordan projects a ruthlessness, a sense that there is nothing he
enjoys more than moving in for the kill against a wounded
opponent. So last Friday it was appropriate that after his
brilliant 48-point performance propelled the No. 5-seeded
Chicago Bulls to a 108-100 overtime victory over the No.
4-seeded Charlotte Hornets in Game 1 of their best-of-five
Eastern Conference first-round playoff series, Jordan compared
himself to an animal that enjoys the hunt. ``I felt like a shark
that smelled blood in the water,'' he said.
``When Michael has you down, he doesn't just want to keep you
down,'' said Charlotte guard Hersey Hawkins. ``He wants to drive a
stake through your heart.''
But the Hornets' heart isn't easily pierced, as they proved Sunday
by bouncing back with a 106-89 win in Game 2. The Hornets had
been attacked by a shark and lived to tell about it--for at
least two more games, one of which will have been played on
Tuesday and the other scheduled for Friday in Chicago.
The problem for the Bulls was that few of them shared Jordan's
killer instinct. Chicago won Game 1 despite getting only 27
minutes, three shots and eight points from All-Star forward
Scottie Pippen. ``Michael bailed us out,'' said Bull coach Phil
Jackson after Jordan had scored 20 points in the fourth quarter
and overtime. In Game 2 he was almost as masterly, with 32
points, seven assists, seven rebounds and one floating,
lefthanded, reverse flip of a layup that was the equal of any of
his preretirement highlight-film moves. He had nine
fourth-quarter points, but the rest of the Bulls could produce
only six in the period, which was also notable for the moment
when 5'10" Charlotte guard Michael Adams scored on a key layup,
which led to him and 5'3" teammate Muggsy Bogues executing
probably the lowest high five in NBA history.
But it was the Charlotte big men, 6'10" center Alonzo Mourning and
6'7", 250-pound power forward Larry Johnson, who were most
responsible for sending the series to Chicago all even. The Bulls'
most vulnerable area is under the basket, and the Hornets attacked
them there in Game 2, with Mourning grabbing 20 rebounds and
Johnson scoring 25 points. ``We're going with our big lineup, and
we just keep pounding it in over and over until something loosens
up,'' says Charlotte coach Allan Bristow. ``We'll use Larry at
[shooting] guard if we have to.''
If they do, it won't be the first wrinkle John Bach, the
Charlotte assistant in charge of defense, has thrown at Jordan.
Bach was a Chicago assistant during the Bulls' three
championship years (1991, '92 and '93), and in practice he would
devise schemes designed to stop His Airness. ``He'd say,
`What've you got for me today, Johnny? I'm going to whip it,' ''
And in defeat Jordan seemed similarly confident; even his most
innocuous comments sounded ominous. ``I'm looking forward to it''
was all he said about Game 3, and there was a look in his eye that
indicated that the shark was still circling. -- Phil Taylor