On a night when Michael Jordan surpassed Kareem Abdul-Jabbar as the NBA's all-time playoff scoring leader, it wasn't his shooting that moved Chicago to within four wins of another title.
It was all the little things.Asked if Indiana's loss hurt even more knowing Jordan had an off night, Pacers coach Larry Bird promptly pointed out those little things and said, "That's why he's the best player in the league and probably the greatest player ever."
Coming from a player whom many believe is among the five greatest of all time, those are pretty strong words.
Jordan was, plain and simple, off his game Sunday night. He only made 9 of 25 field goals, and only 10 of 15 foul shots. He still scored 28 points, but his rebounding, passing and defense served as the keys.
Jordan finished with nine rebounds and eight assists and held Reggie Miller scoreless in the fourth quarter.
But M.J. was very unJordanesque in a game he essentially promised Chicago would win. In the fourth quarter - a 12-minute period that could easily be renamed "the Jordan quarter" for all his previous heroics - he was cold.
He connected on 2-of-8 field goals and 4-of-6 from the charity stripe. Fans had to wonder who was the impostor waring the No. 23 jersey.
As appalled as the United Center crowd, Jordan made amends any way he could - like winning a jump ball against a 10-inch taller Rik Smits, or pulling down an offensive rebound during the final minute when Indiana desperately needed the ball.
"He's been the greatest player, and the playoffs have been his showcase," said Bulls coach Phil Jackson. "I think today, although it's one he won't say was one of his greatest, it still shows the emphasis and energy he gives as a basketball player."
Jordan passed Abdul-Jabbar on a layup in the second quarter. The previous record stood at 5,762, and Jordan still has at least four games to tack on a few more insurance dunks.
"It will mean something once I'm done and have an opportunity to reminisce about it," said Jordan, who now wants to begin a ring collection on his left hand.
Perhaps Jordan's guarantee of a victory personified his leadership better than anything.
"You have to stay positive," he said. "That's one of the reasons that I felt I had to as a leader speak up and say, `We're going to win this.' " Luckily, his teammates followed along. Without them picking up Jordan's scoring slack, NBC executives would be popping a lot of Prozac right about now while staring in the face of a Pacers-Jazz Finals.