The conventional wisdom in basketball says no game in January can be that important. The Chicago Bulls would like to believe that.
Forget the fact that the Bulls were tied for first place coming into the Palace Tuesday night. They were little better than an also-ran to the suddenly streaking Pistons, who have won six straight and sent fans home early with a 100-90 embarrassment of Michael Jordan and company.
“It was a strange game,” said Pistons coach Chuck Daly on a night when his team so dominated that it led the Bulls by as many as 21 points. “They looked a little flat.”
Jordan said: “We were humiliated.”
He traditionally gets a tough night against Pistons guard Joe Dumars. Tuesday, he must have wondered how so many guys could wear the same No. 4 uniform. Dumars not only outshined Jordan in the scoring department (28 points vs. 16) but he also frustrated the all-star guard with his defense.
Jordan was saddled with shots that bounced off the backboard, rolled off the rim or were blocked by the likes of John Salley and Bill Laimbeer.
He wound up shooting just 6-for-17 from the floor. Afterwards, he refused to blame a sore knee, saying that he simply missed his shots and was defended by a master.
“(Dumars) was the MVP of the playoffs,” Jordan said. “He didn’t get there by accident, you know. He’s an exceptional player.”
If there were any doubts, Dumars erased them from the opening whistle. He hit seven of his first eight shots, popping jumpers from all over the floor and dropping in lay-ups. By the end of the first quarter, Dumars had 16 points — as many as Jordan would have all night. Toward the end of the half, he spun on the baseline away from a startled Jordan, went under the basket and banked it in backwards, as the Palace crowd roared.
“Everything felt good tonight,” said Dumars, who shot 12- for-21 from the floor. “Guarding Jordan takes a lot of work. There are no gimmicks. But I’ve always said hard work is one of the best things in this league.
“I had nice roatation on the ball. My teammates were setting good picks, and I was getting good open shots. And when you hit your shots, your adrenaline is pumped for defense.”
Isiah Thomas had a good night as playmaker (11 assists) and Laimbeer, Dennis Rodman and James Edwards handled the lion’s share of rebounds (eight, eight and seven, respectively).
Meanwhile, the Bulls — with Jordan, Bill Cartwright and John Paxson cold from the floor — seemed to be trying to climb a windowpane much of the night. They were behind by seven points after the first quarter, 14 points after the second, 17 points after the third.
“We are in a groove right now,” said Salley, whose slam block of a Jordan drive will certainly be in his personal highlight film, if not the team’s.
“Everybody seems to know their role. We’re enjoying playing.”
Why not? The win was the Pistons’ 10th in their last 11 games. For whet it’s worth, first place in the Central Division is theirs, at least for a night. The Pistons are in Boston tonight.
The Pistons have now won all but two of their 16 home games. The Bulls remain sub-.500 on the road with an 8-10 record.
Bulls coach Phil Jackson said: “Dumars played a great game . . . Michael did not.”
That about sums it up.
Overall, for a night billed as a showdown in the Central Division, the game was surprisingly one-sided. Besides Dumars’ heroics, the most dramatic moment came when Rodman went flying over the press table chasing a loose ball and clobbered Free Press sports writer Drew Sharp, smashing his computer and knocking beverages, papers and assorted media apparatus. Rodman, true to his flexible form, somehow untangled himself and got back in the lineup. Sharp was not so fortunate. He suffered a nasty bump on the head and was taken for first aid.
“Way to take one for the team!” yelled Laimbeer, which some later claimed was the first pleasant thing he has said all year.
Sharp was seen walking around after the game and is listed as probable for tonight’s game against the Celtics.