When Michael Jordan's 3-pointer at the buzzer hit nothing but air there was a short groan followed by silence. It was at that moment when you could almost hear the thoughts of the Chicago Bulls fans on the front row of the United Center.
"I paid $10,000 a ticket for this?"Jordan's final game in the United Center - if it was, in fact, his final game - will go down as a loss in which he missed a potential game-winning shot at the buzzer, albeit a tremendously difficult, off-balance 26-footer.
The Utah Jazz, all but given up for dead, returned the NBA Finals to Salt Lake City with an improbable 83-81 victory on Friday night.
"There for a split second, actually 1.1 seconds, no one knew what was going to happen," Jordan said, who was an uncharacteristic 1-of-7 from the field in the fourth. "Everybody was anticipating a big shot on our side. Everyone thought I could make a shot. And that's the beauty of the game."
In the process they ended the Bulls' eight-game Finals home winning streak and ticked off Utah-hater Dennis Rodman, not to mention most of the national media who were looking forward to starting vacations on Saturday. It continued the trend, however, in which no home team has won the middle three games since the advent of the 2-3-2 Finals format 15 years ago.
The Jazz still have their work cut out for them - they are still down 3-2 in the series and they'll have to win on both Sunday and Wednesday to win their first-ever NBA title. No team has ever won the Finals after falling behind 3-1. But both the sixth and seventh games are scheduled for the Delta Center.
"At least we've regained the home-court (advantage) that we worked to get for 82 games to receive," said Jazz coach Jerry Sloan.
The Jazz had plenty of heroes coming out of Friday night's game, but Karl Malone and Antoine Carr top the list. Malone, who had been vilified in the press for most of series and particularly for his performance on Wednesday night when he scored only two points in the fourth quarter of a tight ball game, was huge. He scored 39 points - including eight in the fourth - to lead the way.
"I realize all the stuff that is being said," Malone admitted. "But I was able to get away yesterday, get totally away from basketball. We knew as a team this was do or die. It was a great win for us, great team effort."
"We've been very fearful of (Malone having a big game)," said Scottie Pippen. "We realized sooner or later he was going to step out and have a big game. But we didn't anticipate it being a 39-point game."
But it was Carr, who had scored a grand total of four points in the first four games, who was the most surprising star for the Jazz. He started at center in the second half - the fourth player to start a half at that position for Utah in the series - and he made the most of it. The Big Dawg scored 12 points and made 5-of-6 shots from the field. He also sunk a pair of free throws with 10.4 seconds left that gave the Jazz a four-point lead.
The Jazz are now 3-0 in elimination games this season, having beaten Houston twice when a loss would have ended it.
The game was going according to script at halftime. The first half had been about as artistic as a 3-year-old's coloring book, but the crowd that had paid scalpers prices to see the Bulls clinch their sixth title in eight years didn't seem to mind. They led by six, Jordan had 13 first-half points and it was still the Chicago Bulls' world.
But Malone and Carr came out fast in the third quarter to put the Jazz ahead for good. The Jazz duo combined to score the first 13 points of the period for the Jazz and they knotted the game at 43 on a Malone 3-point play with 6:46 remaining. A Jeff Hornacek driving layup with 6:12 remaining put the Jazz up and they never trailed again. The Jazz built up a lead of as many as seven points before a Toni Kukoc 3-pointer cut it to four, 59-55, entering the final period.
The Jazz had to know it might be their night when Bryon Russell went in for a dunk only to have the ball bounce off the rim, on to the backboard and back through the hoop to give the Jazz a 68-60 lead with nine minutes to play.
A 20-footer by Carr with under two minutes to play gave them a 78-71 lead. But a Kukoc trey and a pair of Jordan free throws cut it to two with 1:13 remaining. Then Malone made the jumper of the night. With the shot clock ticking away, the Mailman hit an 18-foot turnaround with 53 seconds left to put Utah up 80-76.
A pair of Kukoc free throws with 18.9 second left cut the gap back to two, but then Carr hit both of his free throws with 10.4 remaining. Kukoc, who had a brilliant 30-point night, hit his final 3-pointer with 5.5 seconds left. After Jeff Hornacek made one of two free throws to give the Jazz an 83-81 lead with 1.1 remaining, Jordan had one last shot to give the Bulls the win. But he missed.
Kukoc kept the Bulls in it. He scored his 30 points on 11-of-13 shooting from the floor. Jordan, who finished with 28 points, was the only other Bull to net double digits.
Malone, who also pulled down a team-best nine boards, was 17-for-27 shooting from the field and made five of his six free throws. John Stockton added a dozen assists.
During a sloppy, ugly first half it looked like it would be the first team to 60 that would be declared the winner. The Jazz opened up an early lead, 14-8, but it could have been more if they would have knocked down some open shots.
The game was tied at 26-26 with 2:50 remaining in the half after a Malone slam. He was called for a technical foul immediately thereafter, however, for pushing Rodman. It was the first of five technical fouls on the night between the two teams during the physical battle. After Malone technical, Jordan scored four straight points to start the Bulls on a 10-2 run. Chicago led by six, 36-30, at intermission.
Bulls vs. Jazz: The Rematch
Game 1 Jazz 88
John Stockton leads Jazz with 24 points
Game 2 Chicago 93
Jordan scorches the Jazz for 37>
Game 3 Chicago 96
Bulls lead Jazz 54
series, 2-1 Jazz shoot 30 percent in blowout
Game 4 Chicago 86
Bulls lead Jazz 82
series 3-1 Pippen, Jordan combine for 62 points
Game 5 Jazz 83
Bulls lead Chicago 81
series, 3-2 Mailman delivers 39 points
Game 6 Chicago
June 14 at Utah
TV, Time, NBC, 5:30 p.m.
Game 7 Chicago
June 17 at Utah
If necessary TV, Time: NBC, 7 p.m.