Forget the notion that one upset loss to the Charlotte Hornets left the Chicago Bulls feeling vulnerable.
"Rumor is when you lose one at home, that's when the playoffs really start," Michael Jordan said Friday night after the Bulls bounced back from a two-point loss in Chicago with a 103-89 victory. "Our focus was really high. We wanted to come in here and return the favor."Jordan, assessed a rare technical foul for arguing with Dick Bavetta just before halftime, scored 17 of his 27 points the rest of the way, giving the Bulls a 2-1 lead in the Eastern Conference semifinal series.
Jordan's performance was a stark contrast to the second half of Game 2, when he was held scoreless for more than 19 minutes.
"We slipped up and fell asleep in Chicago and we had to regain our focus," Jordan said. "Charlotte forced us to do that by beating us at home."
Now the Hornets are the team fielding questions about their vulnerability heading into Game 4 at home on Sunday in the best-of-7 series.
"This is a disappointment," Hornets forward Glen Rice said. "We just weren't aggressive at all, and I'm not sure why."
The Hornets were trying to send Chicago to its second consecutive playoff loss and its first postseason deficit since 1995, which was the last time the Bulls failed to win the NBA title.
But Chicago shot 52 percent, had a 29-13 edge in bench scoring and outrebounded the Hornets 40-25.
Charlotte also was hurt by 44 percent shooting and a lack of support for Rice. After shooting just 34 percent in the first two games, Rice bounced back with a 13-of-26 effort and had 31 points in Game 3. But Anthony Mason was his only teammate to come up with a significant contribution.
"We need more than just Glen in terms of offense," point guard David Wesley said. "Guys have to step up and get the job done and make plays, and we just didn't do that."
Mason had 16 points and seven rebounds before exiting the game and getting in a war of words with coach Dave Cowens, who kept him on the bench for the first six minutes of the fourth quarter. The exchange between the two was injected with profanities from both player and coach.
Cowens later said he was merely trying to send a message to his team that he was upset with their play, and Mason said he considered the matter closed.
"No matter how you speak around here, it always becomes a confrontation," Mason said. "I'm always forgetting them. I've been around them too much."
The Hornets were able to contain Jordan in Game 2 with a defensive effort led by Mason, their power forward, but they reverted to primarily using their guards on him Friday night. Jordan seemed much more comfortable again, shooting 9-of-20 and adding six assists and five rebounds.