Whoever says it's foolish to cram for an exam never met the Chicago Bulls.
After spending the first eight minutes in Game 3 of the NBA Finals studying the Utah Jazz, the two-time defending champions went about applying their knowledge. The Bulls didn't just pass this test - they mastered it. In the process, they took a 2-1 lead in the best-of-seven championship series with a record-setting 96-54 victory in the United Center."We got a good feeling in terms of what they're running. And with our defense, once we have a good feel, we can aggressively start to attack," Michael Jordan said after the most lopsided game in NBA Finals history since the 24-second clock was introduced in 1954-55. "Early on in the first quarter, we were probably just observing some of (Utah's) adjustments."
The Jazz - thanks to Karl Malone, who made his first six shots from the field - jumped out to a 14-9 lead before the Bulls organized their stampede. Chicago then took to heart its pledge to "defend what is ours." Utah missed its next 11 shots as Chicago took the lead for good. The Jazz were held scoreless for almost six minutes over the first and second quarters as the Bulls applied the pressure. Shandon Anderson broke the drought with a 13-foot jumper as someone other than the Mailman finally delivered for Utah. Prior to the basket, Malone's teammates were just 1-of-19 from the field.
The cold spell exposed Utah to an approaching storm. Old Man Winter? No, just a concerted effort on defense led by a guy with blue and green hair named Dennis Rodman.
Bulls coach Phil Jackson inserted Rodman into the game after growing dissatisfied with Luc Longley's defense on Malone.
"I thought Luc played him real soft. It looked like he was going to make that jump shot all day at the start of the game," Jackson said. "And so when I got the opportunity, somewhere in the middle of the first quarter, I put Dennis on the outside. And they never got anything really started with Karl on the post. Then, from there on out, it just shut down his touches. Dennis did a good job on him from that aspect."
Malone finished with a team-high 22 points, but he attempted only four shots in 10 minutes after Chicago led 49-31 at halftime. The Bulls pulled away by holding the Jazz scoreless for 5:46 over the first and second periods.
"I think our team defense has been the key since Game 1," Scottie Pippen said of Chicago's ability to take Utah out of its offensive sets. "Our defense is what's carrying us pretty much throughout the series."
If the first half of Game 3 didn't prove it, the final two quarters certainly did. Things got progressively worse for the Jazz. For starters, it took Utah almost three minutes to score in the third quarter. Eight turnovers stalled the offense as Chicago extended its lead.
The advantage swelled to 42 points in the final 12 minutes as the Bulls held the Jazz to an NBA Finals record-low nine points in the fourth quarter. When the dust settled, Chicago had held Utah to the lowest point in NBA history since the 24-shot clock was introduced in 1954-55.
"I'm not going to put too much significance in it. I know that's an awesome score to look at, it's overwhelming in that respect," Jackson said. "But if you look at the momentum surges in the game and the understanding of the direction of the ball game, you can see how the possibility might happen with (John) Stockton having trouble today initiating the offense, keeping them at bay, basically making them have to search to find some scoring."
Malone and Stockton combined for 12 of Utah's 26 turnovers in the contest.
Chicago scored 22 points on the miscues, which included 13 steals and six blocked shots.
"We played good defense," Scottie Pippen said. "We got all the loose balls. We had less turnovers than they did tonight and we were able to capitalize."
And how. Leading 2-1, Chicago can complete its second NBA championship three-peat with victories over Utah in the United Center Wednesday and Friday.
"We have to forget about today's game and prepare for Game 4," said Toni Kukoc, who finished with a team-high four steals. "Everyone on this team knows we still have to win two more games."
The dirty dozen
Dubious Records set by the Utah Jazz in Sunday's Game 3 debacle:
NBA Record, all games
Fewest points, game 54
NBA Playoff Records
Fewest points, game 54
Fewest points, half 23
Fewest field goals, game 21
Fewest players, 10+ points, game 1
NBA Finals Records
Fewest points 54
Largest margin of defeat 42
Fewest field goas, game 21
Fewest points, half 23
Fewest points, fourth quarter 9
Fewest points, both team, first quarter 31
Franchise Playoff Record
Most turnovers, game 26