INGLEWOOD, Calif. — The question is no longer can the Bulls win it, or will they win it, or, when they win it, will Michael Jordan wind up with more money than OPEC? No. The question is now: Why are we waiting until Wednesday to finish this thing? Even Dyan Cannon can tell you these NBA Finals are history, done, stick a fork in them. Michael Jordan and his CapaBulls will not be beaten, not by challengers, not by defending champions, not even by all those yellow banners hanging from the Forum walls.
Ring the bell. Empty the schoolhouse. The lesson is obvious: You can throw everything at the Bulls — Patrick Ewing, Charles Barkley, Isiah Thomas, Magic Johnson, the Palace, the Forum, the refs (no, check that, they already own the refs), the fans, the announcers, the Libyan army — doesn’t matter. They will flatten everything like a steamroller and just keep going. You think you have a chance, you focus, you sweat, you play as hard as you can — and you look up and the Bulls are winning by 12 points.
“We can’t make nothing, we can’t generate nothin’, they’re just playing outstanding now,” said a dejected Magic Johnson after the Bulls rolled to within one win of the crown, beating LA for the second time in the Forum, 97-82, to take a 3-1 lead in these suddenly lopsided Finals. “It’s not just Michael (Jordan), either. We can’t do anything with the other guys. Horace Grant is playing well. John Paxson is playing well. Even Bill Cartwright got hot in the first quarter. They’re doing it everywhere.”
And that’s Magic talking. It’s not just Jordan anymore And can you blame him? Magic is getting a painful dose of what the Pistons got a few weeks ago. You just don’t expect these Bulls to be that tough, to be that hot, to be that all-around tenacious on defense — and next thing you know, the buzzer sounds and they’re running off with your wallet.
Here was perhaps the most telling stretch Sunday evening: Fourth quarter, Lakers rally, closing the gap to 78-71 with seven minutes left. The crowd rose to its feet. Jack Nicholson hollered, “Here we go!” And here is what Chicago did next:
A Paxson jump shot, a dunk by Scottie Pippen, two free throws by Grant, a jumper by Cartwright, another Paxson bomb, a free throw by Cartwright, another Paxson bomb, two free throws by Pippen — and ka-boom! A 14-point lead with just over a minute left. You’ll notice I did not mention the name Jordan. His Holiness did not score during that stretch. In fact, he scored only two free throws in the final seven minutes — and the Bulls still blew the Lakers out.
So it’s not just Michael. On the other hand, it’s definitely all the Lakers (who Sunday scored just 16 points in the second quarter and 14 in the third). Not only are they getting outmuscled while their bench does its rendition of “Silence of the Lambs,” but I think we overestimated this championship experience stuff. Remember, this is not Jabbar/ Johnson/Cooper/Worthy experience. The only guy whose history can affect the game right now is Magic. Worthy is helpless with a bum ankle. A.C. Green has experience but doesn’t play enough. Mychal Thompson has experience but never takes his warm-ups off. And Byron Scott has experience, but no jump shot. He has been simply awful this series, crippling the Lakers with five baskets in four games. On Sunday, he left the court with three minutes to go. Shoulder injury. He never came back.
I bet Jordan, who scored 28, complains that he didn’t shake his hand.
“Are you still looking forward to going back to Chicago?” someone asked Michael, now that the Bulls could win it here Wednesday night. “Yeah,” Michael said. “I live in Chicago.”
That’s Midwestern humor for you, Lakers fans. What it means is this: This baby’s over. Pick your poison with Bulls What’s that? How are they doing it? How are these Bulls just demolishing everybody? A few of their poisons:
* Shooting: No matter how you try to unnerve them, these guys can shoot. They are averaging better than 50 percent in these Finals, and they rarely have an off-quarter. Part of the reason for this: Many of their shots are lay-ups or open jumpers — thanks to Jordan swinging the ball over from a double-team.
* Defense: They have the Lakers’ number as clearly as they had Detroit’s. When LA dumps the ball inside — which it does all the time — the Bulls rotate like blips on a computer screen. There are two or three men on Vlade Divac or Sam Perkins when he tries a baseline jump shot. And if it misses, all those Bulls are there for the rebound.
* Bench. Bulls have one; Lakers don’t.
* Jordan. ‘Nuff said.
Now, I know this doesn’t play well in Detroit. It doesn’t play well out here, either. It was kind of sad to listen to Magic all but concede the series: “I never anticipated anything like this. . . . We just can’t hit nothin’. . . . They’re taking it to the hole and scoring, and we’re taking jump shots and missing. . . . It’s one thing not to be doing your job . . . it’s another to just be getting beat. . . . We’re getting beat.”
It’s the truth. With two minutes left Sunday, Jordan leaped to save a loose ball and flipped into the crowd. With the Forum half-empty, one lonely patron screamed from the bleachers, “STEP ON HIS TOE! CRUSH HIS TOE!”
To stop Chicago now, you’d have to crush something a lot bigger. Like the team bus.