The Chicago Bulls and Milwaukee Bucks have dispelled any doubt that the NBA playoffs are a new season.
After dropping all six regular-season games to Cleveland and Atlanta, the Bulls and Bucks eliminated their tormentors from the playoffs on Sunday - and they did it on the road in the final games of best-of-5 opening-round series.At Richfield, Ohio, Michael Jordan drove past Craig Ehlo and hit a 15-foot jumper at the buzzer, giving the Bulls a 101-100 victory over the Cavaliers. In Atlanta, Ricky Pierce scored 25 points and Paul Mokeski and Jay Humphries hit key baskets down the stretch as Milwaukee overcame the absence of injured scoring leader Terry Cummings and beat the Hawks 96-92.
Meanwhile, the Los Angeles Lakers, seeking their third straight championship, opened their Western Conference semifinal series by defeating the Seattle SuperSonics 113-102 as Magic Johnson scored nine of his 21 points in the first five minutes of the fourth quarter.
On Tuesday night, Chicago visits New York to start the best-of-7 Eastern Conference semifinals while Golden State plays Game 2 of its Western Conerence semifinal at Phoenix. The Suns won the opener on Saturday.
Two more games are scheduled for Wednesday - Milwaukee at Detroit in the start of the other Eastern Conference semifinal and Seattle at Los Angeles for Game 2 of their series.
Jordan scored 30 of his 44 points in the second half, 17 in the fourth quarter. Ehlo scored 15 of his 24 in the final period, including three 3-pointers.
Scottie Pippen's 3-pointer gave the Bulls a 97-95 lead with 1:12 left, but Ehlo countered with a 3-pointer of his own to put Cleveland ahead 98-97 with 51 seconds left. Jordan made a 15-footer with six seconds to play for a one-point Chicago lead, but Ehlo gave Cleveland a 100-99 lead on a drive with three seconds to play.
After two timeouts, Jordan got the ball near the top of the circle, drove past Ehlo and leaped at the free-throw line. The winning shot barely touched the back of the rim as it went through.
"Everyone had been writing us off," Jordan said. "I was very disappointed after we lost Friday night. I was fighting off tears. But I had to get rid of that attitude today.
"Larry Nance did a good job of keeping me from going where I wanted (on the inbounds pass from Brad Sellers that led to his winning shot), so I had to pull off a fake just to get the ball. Once I got the ball, I penetrated a little and got set up a little. But Ehlo came over and had me covered. I had to hesitate and then I got the shot off. How it went in I don't know."
Neither did Ehlo.
"I was kind of excited at first because he (Jordan) picked for Bill Cartwright, so I thought they were using Jordan as a decoy," Ehlo said. "We pushed him out to the sidelines. We did what we wanted to do, but he's exceptionally quick. I put a hand up in his face, but he made the shot."
Mark Price had 23 points and Ron Harper 22 for Cleveland. Cartwright added 16 for the Bulls.
With Cleveland ahead 82-76, Jordan took over, hitting two straight 15-footers to start an 11-0 run that put the Bulls ahead 87-82 for the first time since the opening period.
Bucks 96, Hawks 92
Milwaukee Coach Del Harris called Sunday's contest "as emotional a game as I have been involved in. I just have to praise our players for the courage it took to continue to overcome one obstacle after another."
Mokeski twice gave Milwaukee the lead on layups in the final 31/2 minutes, the last with 2:51 to play, putting the Bucks ahead to stay 87-86. Fred Roberts made two free throws 30 seconds later, Pierce hit an 18-footer and Humphries scored on a breakaway layup, stretching the lead to 93-86.
Atlanta countered with a 3-pointer by Glenn Rivers, but Humphries hit two more free throws with 53 seconds left for a 95-89 lead.
Moses Malone, who led the Hawks with 25 points and 16 rebounds, got Atlanta within three points with a 3-point field goal but Humphries hit one of two free throws with eight seconds left.
"We controlled the tempo," Pierce said. "A lot of people were counting us out. We have lots of confidence."
Free throws were the difference. The Bucks, who led the NBA in free throw shooting, made their first 16 and finished with 26 of 29. Atlanta made only 22 of 35.
It was the second victory in a row at Atlanta for the Bucks, who had broken a nine-game losing streak in The Omni by winning Game 2.
"This will be hard for us to get over," said Dominique Wilkins, who had 22 points for the Hawks.
Lakers 113, SuperSonics 102
James Worthy had 28 points and 12 rebounds for the Lakers, who didn't go ahead for good until a jump shot by Johnson with 9:51 remaining gave them an 88-87 lead, starting a 16-4 spurt that made it 102-91 with 4:34 to go.
Byron Scott had 18 points and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Mychal Thompson added 16 points each for Los Angeles. Derrick McKey led Seattle with 23 points and Dale Ellis had 19, but only two in the fourth quarter. Xavier McDaniel scored 15 for the Sonics, only two in the second half.
It was the Lakers' ninth straight playoff victory over the Sonics dating back to April 1980.
Johnson said he could sense the Sonics were fatigued in the fourth quarter when the Lakers outscored them 33-21.
"Oh, yeah, you can feel that," he said. "We kind of picked the defense up, got some easy transition points. That's when we took advantage of them getting tired."