Uploaded on Apr 26, 2008
For the Chicago Bulls, today's performance was worth the wait.
Chicago spent all season looking forward to a playoff rematch against the Orlando Magic, the team that eliminated the Bulls last year in the second round. This year's ECF is Chicago's chance for revenge. And in Game 1, revenge was both sweet and spectacular.
Playing a magnificent game with passion and precision, the Bulls embarrassed Orlando, 121-83, to open the four-of-seven-game series at the United Center. It was a loss that could have disastrous consequences for the Magic, because Horace Grant suffered a hyperextended left elbow in the third quarter when he collided with his teammate Shaquille O'Neal. X-rays taken of Grant's elbow were negative, but he left the arena in pain and he was listed as questionable for Tuesday night's Game 2 in Orlando.
If Grant cannot play, Orlando will have even more difficulty matching up with Chicago's frontline. And even before Grant left today's game, this was a thorough beating from the start, and Orlando was on the receiving end of the spanking. The Bulls outrebounded the Magic by an incredible 62-28 margin.
Chicago opened the game with such emotion, Orlando looked like a boxer who had been stunned early, and the Magic never got off the ropes. Two minutes into the game, Chicago led, 10-0, and Michael Jordan had yet to take a shot.
It was only a sign of things to come. There was no need for Jordan (21 points on 9-for-17 shooting, 7 rebounds, 4 assists) to carry the offense today, because his teammates more than carried their weight. Dennis Rodman (21 rebounds) rebounded as if every missed shot was his personal property and even added a season-high 13 points. Scottie Pippen (18 points, 7-for-20 from the field, 8 rebounds, 4 assists) was more aggressive offensively than at any time during the previous series against the Knicks. And Chicago's ball movement was so crisp and purposeful, the Bulls carved through Orlando's defense like a surgeon's knife.
The Bulls looked like the class of basketball today, like the team that won a record-setting 72 games during the regular season. They also looked like a team on a mission, and after this performance, one had to wonder if Orlando could stop them. Leading by 10 points at halftime, the Bulls built a 23-point lead late in the third quarter and they were never challenged thereafter.
"We were pretty surprised," said Jordan, who will be named the NBA's most valuable player for the fourth time at a news conference Monday. "The game turned lopsided, which we never anticipated. We came out with a lot of intensity and a lot of emotion. It became fun."
Whatever Orlando's defensive game plan was, it did not work. The Magic did not contain Pippen, or Jordan, or anyone else. Meanwhile, Chicago's defense was brilliant, holding the highest-scoring team in the playoffs in check. The Bulls' philosophy was simple. They expected Anfernee Hardaway and Shaquille O'Neal to get their points, but they were determined to contain everyone else. That is exactly what happened. Hardaway (38 points, 15-for-21 shooting) had a superb game in defeat, and O'Neal powered his way to 27 points.
But for much of the game, it looked as if Orlando was playing two against five. Orlando's supporting cast abandoned its two superstars like passengers on a sinking ship. Grant was scoreless. Dennis Scott was scoreless. Nick Anderson had 2 points.
The Bulls guarded O'Neal primarily one on one, with Luc Longley, Bill Wennington, John Salley and Rodman taking turns defending against Orlando's center. That allowed the rest of the Bulls to concentrate on covering Anderson, Grant and Scott on the perimeter. Ron Harper did a solid job on Scott, Jordan shut down Anderson and Grant had no room to take his reliable perimeter jumper.
How will Orlando counteract this strategy?
"That's something we're going to have to figure out between now and Tuesday," said Brian Hill, Orlando's coach. "I don't have the answer to that right now. We were not aggressive offensively. We were not aggressive defensively. The outcome of this series isn't going to change unless we pick up our aggressiveness."
Orlando will get another chance. But this game belonged to the Bulls.