IN A GAME when nearly seven out of every 10 shots were bricks, when they would have closed the windows - if there had been any - just to make sure they didn't lose the ball, when there was no such thing as a high percentage shot, all of that didn't matter when, with 0:01 left on the clock, Michael Jordan had the ball in his hands.
"Wrong guy to have it," said the Jazz's Mark Eaton.Jordan nailed an 18-foot jump shot despite an onrushing Thurl Bailey and, just like that, the Chicago Bulls beat the Utah Jazz at the buzzer last night in the Salt Palace, 84-82. It was a mercy killing. This was a game that deserved to die. Still, it was not a popular mercy killing, considering the venue, and the fact that just a year ago Jordan and the Bulls lost a eight-point lead in the final 40 seconds and bowed to the Jazz, who suggested, in the process, that Jordan was at least part human.
"Just goes to show you, it might take a year, but justice will come around," said Jordan in the postgame locker room.
He also smiled and said, "This was one of those ugly basketball games. Then you win and it's beautiful."
Jordan said that last year's loss to the Jazz played on the Bulls' minds all year. "It was our most heart-breaking loss of the season," he said. "We're up seven with 40 seconds to play, and then lose. That really hurt. It set the mood for our road trip. After that, we couldn't do anything right.
"I hope this sets a different tone for this road trip."
The Bulls play six more road games in the next 11 days.
None of them figure to be any ornerier than this one.
Air Jordan's annual visit to Utah was unusually defensive. The Jazz and Bulls both shot a chilly 38 percent from the field. The Bulls shot 91 shots and made 35, the Jazz shot 84 shots and made 32. That means 108 shots were fired that didn't filter through the bottom of the net. No player on either team who shot more than three times made over half his shots. Scottie Pippen of the Bulls made two of 15 from the field. The Jazz's Bailey was three of 12. The Jazz's Jeff Malone, who has a picture-perfect jump shot that looks like it came straight from a shooting clinic, made four shots in 11 tries.
Karl Malone of the Jazz and Jordan, the NBA's two top scorers last season, were part of the deep freeze. Malone was 12 of 27, Jordan 10 of 22.
The party line, of course, is that the poor shooting was the result of tough man-to-man defense, and certainly Karl Malone, who will be surprised all day today that he can turn around and not bump into the Bulls' Horace Grant, would be the first to agree. There were no free passes in the Salt Palace last night. The Jerry Sloan stamp of approval was everywhere.
There were no less than 18 blocked shots. Five Bulls players accounted for eight blocks while four Jazz players, led by Mark Eaton's six, rejected 10 Bulls' shots.
As you might guess, all the missed shots made for a rebounder's dream game. Karl Malone had 19 rebounds, while Bailey had nine and Eaton eight for the Jazz. For the Bulls, Grant and Jordan had 11 boards each and Bill Cartwright 10.
In keeping with the hard-nosed, defensive theme of the evening, the game, after being tied at 82-all with more than a minute and a half still to play, looked like it would never be won. Karl Malone clanged a 20-footer jumper off the rim on the Jazz's first attempt to take the lead. Then, on the Bulls' end, Eaton blocked Pippen. Back on the Jazz end, Malone had another chance, but missed a two-footer.
The Bulls promptly called timeout. In the huddle their coach, Phil Jackson, drew a picture of a basket. He described it as the mysterious object hooked to the backboard that, believe it or not, was big enough for a basketball to fit through.
Well, he either did that, or he said, "OK, get the ball to Michael."
At five seconds, Pippen did just that. He got the ball to Michael on the wing.
"Nobody was calling a foul, so I went outside and created," said Jordan.
Did the shot feel good from lift-off? "All of them feel good," grinned Jordan. "I just wish they'd all go in."
A lot of them didn't on this cold night in the Salt Palace. But all's well that ends in the bottom of the net. For the Bulls, the distance from ugly to beautiful was about 18 feet.