Scottie Pippen wouldn't let Mark Jackson breathe. The rest of the Bulls followed his lead.
With an NBA title to defend, the Chicago Bulls certainly defended it vigorously Sunday.On a day when they had long stretches where they couldn't have played much worse offensively, the Bulls' brilliant defensive schemes made all the difference in Game 1 of the Eastern Conference finals.
Led by Pippen's work on Jackson, Chicago made Indiana look like a bumbling cast of championship pretenders, forcing the Pacers into 26 turnovers and keeping Indiana out of sync in an 85-79 victory.
"That's something we looked at coming into this series," Pippen said of defending Indiana's point guard. "(Jackson) really makes that team click, and with ball pressure and my size, it sort of limits the offensive opportunities that he can have and also allows us to pressure the ball and not let him see our defense.
"I felt I could cause havoc as he tried to bring the ball up."
It was that kind of inspired effort that allowed the Bulls to overcome a 1-for-9 shooting performance by Pippen and a 2-for-11 afternoon for Toni Kukoc.
Even Michael Jordan started 1-for-9, but he returned to form in the second half and scored 25 of his 31 points over the final 24 minutes. By the end of the game, Jordan was hearing chants of "M-V-P, M-V-P" and was making the kind of plays that will undoubtedly earn him that award when it is officially presented Monday.
Jordan had five of Chicago's 19 steals, and Pippen - who guarded Jackson most of the game - had four.
"I knew my pressure would take a toll on him," Pippen said. "I could tell frustration was setting in on them when I had to dodge three or four picks in the backcourt."
The Pacers made only one run in the second half, pulling to 66-65 early in the fourth before Jordan made three showstopping plays.
The first was a weaving drive, including a crossover dribble, through three defenders for a layup that made it 70-65. The second was a backdoor cut behind Jalen Rose for a reverse layup and three-point play, and last was a jumper with 5:13 remaining for a nine-point lead.
And on a day when Chicago was playing its defense so well, even that margin was too much to overcome.
"Easy shots make things fall into place - either layups or free throws. That seemed to get my rhythm stared and my focus started, and I went for it and it worked in my favor," Jordan said.
Four of Indiana's five starters shot under 50 percent, including a 5-for-14 outing for leading scorer Reggie Miller, who finished with 16 points.
Jackson had seven of Indiana's turnovers and Rik Smits and Dale Davis added four each.
"There's only one Scottie Pippen," Jackson said. "He did a great job. It is uncharacteristic of us to turn the ball over that many times."
Game 2 in the best-of-7 series is Tuesday night, and the Pacers will need to find an answer to the way Chicago clamped down.
To a man, they all talked about making the right adjustments to counter Chicago's methods.
"We anticipated wrong," Miller said. "To tell you the truth, I was looking to have Scottie on me and (Jordan) guarding Mark. They threw us for a loop. This sends us back to the drawing board."
The defensive intensity went on display right away as Pippen, who usually guards forwards, was in Jackson's face every time he tried to bring the ball upcourt.
The rest of the Bulls picked up on Pippen's energy, slapping at dribbles, sticking a hand in the way of passes, cutting off the Pacers' favorite angles and forcing Indiana's best scorers to rush their shots or move too far from the basket.
By the time Jordan started regaining his touch in the third quarter, the Pacers were on their way to being beat.
Jordan's dunk 32 seconds into the quarter put the Bulls in front for good, 41-40, and his eight-footer less than 21/2 minutes in completed a 10-0 run that made it 47-40.Jordan's steal and fast break slam gave Indiana a 10-point lead with 5:54 left, and Kukoc's steal and feed to Dennis Rodman gave Chicago a 64-50 lead with 1:44 left.
Chicago's offensive woes then resurfaced, and Indiana got back into it with an 11-0 run.
But the Pacers would never retake the lead, and Jordan helped close it out by scoring 15 points in the final quarter.
It was Chicago' 11th consecutive victory in a Game 1.
Jordan was 1-for-9, Pippen was 1-for-8 and Kukoc 1-for-7 in the first half, yet the Bulls trailed only 40-37 at the break. One of the biggest reasons was Rodman, who was a bundle of energy under the basket, grabbing rebounds, drawing fouls and creating havoc.
He led the Bulls at halftime with nine points, seven rebounds and three fouls, And if it weren't for his technical foul - for slapping at Jackson after the refs told him to stop - the Pacers wouldn't have even gotten to the foul line. That technical accounted for Indiana's only free throw, while Chicago took 18 in the first half.
Notes: Jordan became the NBA's career playoff leader in free throw attempts with 1,632 and tied Magic Johnson for the most career playoff steals at 358. ... Rodman did not arrive at the United Center until 1:25 p.m. CDT - about an hour and 10 minutes before tipoff. He was replaced in the starting lineup by Kukoc. ... Pippen was poked in the left eye early in the third quarter but continued playing. ... Chicago had a 15-7 edge on the offensive glass. ... Everyone on Chicago's roster played, although Jud Buechler and Dickey Simpkins were on the court for less than one minute apiece.