He scorched Reggie Miller, he brutalized the Indiana Pacers, he even one-upped the crowd.
Michael Jordan did it all Tuesday night, making huge play after huge play down the stretch as the Chicago Bulls took a 2-0 lead over the Indiana Pacers with a 104-98 victory.The crowd gave Jordan a 40-second standing ovation after commissioner David Stern presented him with his fifth MVP trophy, and Jordan went one better by scoring 41 points - his 35th career postseason game with at least 40.
"It was a short ceremony, which was good," Jordan said. "It didn't take away from what we were really there for, which was to try to win Game 2."
In the end, Jordan practically won it by himself.
After Indiana scored four points in less than 10 seconds to pull to 98-95, Jordan drove to his right, slipped and fell, got back up - maintaining his dribble all the while - and then sliced through three defenders for a runner that bounced in.
Rik Smits missed a shot for Indiana, and Jordan tipped the rebound to Luc Longley, then got the ball back and was isolated one-on-one against Miller.
He drove to his right, stopped at the baseline, turned, squared his body and hit a 14-foot fallaway.
"I've always said that getting that type of trophy is added pressure - you have to go out and live up to it at some particular time," Jordan said. "Tonight was no different. I felt pressure to go out and prove that you guys didn't make any mistakes in your voting."
It was a performance so good it was almost comical. You name it, he did it.
Fallaway jumpers. Drives through traffic. Offensive rebounds. Defensive rebounds. Timely assists. Everything.
The 41-point game was Jordan's highest total of this postseason and his biggest outburst since scoring 55 against Washington in the first round of last year's playoffs.
He shot 13-for-22 from the field and 15-for-18 from the line with five assists, four of Chicago's 15 steals and four rebounds.
But more than any stat line could show, Jordan took the life out of the Pacers every time they tried to make a move.
"Knowing Michael, he probably thought getting the MVP award would fire us up," said Scottie Pippen. "He wanted to come out and prove he is the MVP, which he is. There's no question about it."
The Bulls employed a lot of the same strategies that worked so well in Game 1, from using Pippen to defend Mark Jackson to using Ron Harper to frustrate Miller.
Indiana had another bad night protecting the ball, turning it over 20 times, and again got a subpar effort from Miller, who scored 19 points but shot just 4-for-13 from the field.
The Bulls, meanwhile, survived a weak effort from Dennis Rodman, who had only two points and six rebounds in 24 minutes as he was held out of the starting lineup for the second straight game.
Pippen had 21 points, six rebounds, five steals, five assists and three blocked shots, and Toni Ku-koc scored 16 points.
"I'm very tired, but when it's all over and you've got a victory, it's a little bit more of a relief," Pippen said. "They're making me expend a lot of energy and I'm putting forth a lot of effort to make their offense be disrupted."
Chicago committed only six turnovers and managed to hold onto the lead throughout the fourth quarter after going ahead in the third.
Jordan's string of big plays began shortly after he re-entered the game early in the fourth period.
A 3-pointer by Steve Kerr made it 87-78 with 9:29 left, and the Pacers botched three of their next four possessions.
Antonio Davis and Chris Mullin lost the ball when confronted by double-teams, and Jordan stole a weak crosscourt pass by Jackson and went in for an uncontested dunk that made it 89-80.
Indiana came back with five straight points and had a chance to get closer, but Pippen's defense wouldn't allow it. Guarding Jackson as closely as he did throughout Game 1, Pippen forced a steal and raced to the other end to catch a pass from Jordan for a wide-open 3-pointer.
Jordan added an assist on Chicago's next possession for another seven-point lead, and the Pacers trailed by at least five the rest of the way - except for the brief stretch preceding Jordan's final fadeaway.