Mayday! Mayday! The Utah Jazz's best-ever chance to win an NBA title is in a free fall. The Jazz are dropping faster than the gate receipts to "Godzilla." Even Dr. Kevorkian's patients have better outlooks for survival. The Jazz may not quite be barbecued, but they are certainly on the grill with the charcoals white-hot.
If there's ever a time to push the panic button, it's right now for the Jazz. The little-team-that-thought-it-could is in dire straits after Wednesday night's 86-82 loss in Game 4 to the big, bad Bullies.Michael Jordan, a.k.a. the best basketball player ever, was equal to his legend. Scottie Pippen was the equal of MJ. And Dennis Rodman, despite being "a free spirit" (which is a politically correct way of saying "certifiably bonkers"), was in the fourth quarter more than the equal of a former league MVP, who, for some odd reason, did an impressive disappearing act during crunch time.
Utah's third consecutive loss means the five-time world champs are just one win away from the joy of six. The Bulls will get their first of three chances, if necessary, to finish off the Jazz on Friday night in front of the adoring home fans in the United Center.
And while both sides are saying the series isn't over yet, everyone really knows that it is - barring a season-ending injury to Jordan at Thursday's media session.
No team has ever rebounded from a 3-1 deficit in the Finals to win. With John Stockton and Jeff Hornacek looking every bit their combined age of 70 and Karl Malone not delivering when it counts, the Jazz hardly look like the team that will rewrite Finals history with a Lazarus-like comeback.
"We're confident," said Bulls coach Phil Jackson. "They have to beat us three in a row to win this series, and we know that's a pretty difficult task for any team."
The Jazz actually had a decent chance to win Wednesday's entertaining Game 4, which would have evened the series at 2-2 and ensured that there would be at least one more game this season in the Delta Center. Utah actually had the lead with five minutes to play. The game was tied with three minutes left. And the Bulls were only up by two with under a minute to play - despite the fact that Stockton and Malone were both struggling.
With the game tied and 2:53 remaining, Rodman made a pair of free throws - the first one bouncing around so that it hit every square inch of rim before falling - to give the Bulls a 74-72 advantage. Chris Morris cut the gap to a single point twice for the Jazz, but both times Jordan made inside moves to score over Shandon Anderson, the second time with 1:40 to play.
After a Pippen foul shot gave the Bulls a four-point lead with 1:21 remaining, Hornacek buried a 20-footer to make it 79-77 with one minute left. When Jordan missed a 15-footer, the Jazz looked like they'd have possession of the ball and a chance to tie the game. Instead, a loose-ball foul on the rebound was called on Malone which sent Rodman to the line with 43.8 seconds left.
Rodman, whose been a notoriously bad free throw shooter during the playoffs, sank both attempts to give the Bulls a four-point edge.
"(Rodman) was our most effective free throw shooter and that is the last thing you would expect," said Bulls center Luc Longley.
1998 NBA Finals
Bulls run continues as Michael and Co. take commanding 3-1 advantage.