They'll be giving the MVP award to Michael Jordan today.
Based on what happened in Sunday's game, they could have given it to Scottie Pippen.Right from the start, Pippen confronted Indiana point guard Mark Jackson with 94 feet of in-your-face defense. The rest of the Bulls followed his lead as Chicago beat the Pacers 85-79 in Game 1 of the Eastern Conference finals.
"I wanted to play Jackson, I wanted to make him have to work," Pippen said. "We felt Ron (Harper) could do a better job on Reggie (Miller) and give Michael more energy from an offensive standpoint."
With their playmaker unable to comfortably run the offense, the Pacers turned into an inept, bumbling bunch. And after the Bulls shook off their offensive cobwebs, they were on their way to a 1-0 lead in the best-of-7 series.
"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."
It was a scheme for which Indiana had no answer. And as the Pacers prepare to play Game 2 on Tuesday night, they'll undoubtedly be wondering what wrinkles the Bulls will come up with next.
In the meantime, Jordan will receive his fifth Most Valuable Player award.
"I feel proud about it," Jordan said. "But right now I can't say I've accomplished everything I wanted to accomplish. It puts more pressure on me and this team when you win this type of award, because now they expect you to win the championship.
"I'm sure (the voters) expect the elevation of my game to the point where we get the sixth championship - and that is part of my challenge."
Jordan certainly looked like anything but an MVP as he struggled through a 1-for-9 first half, even missing three or four layups.
But he was his old self in the second half, scoring 25 of his 31 points as Chicago went ahead and stayed ahead.
"I told Michael he'd have to use his energy on the offensive end," Pippen said. "I was getting tired on the defensive end."
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 defense so well, even that margin was too much to overcome.
Jordan had five of Chicago's 19 steals, and Pippen - who guarded Jackson most of the game - had four. Chicago forced the Pacers into 26 turnovers to overcome a 1-for-9 shooting performance by Pippen and a 2-for-11 afternoon for Toni Kukoc.
"It's scary to see how good Scottie is," Steve Kerr said. "He's 1-for-9 and scores four points and totally dominated the game. That's why he's one of the greatest players ever. He doesn't have to score to control the game."
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 as uncharacteristic of us to turn the ball over that many times."
The Pacers know they will have to make adjustments in Game 2 to deal with the Bulls' defense.
"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."
Jordan's dunk 32 seconds into the third 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.