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posted: 4/21/2011 5:27 AM

Bulls defining moments in legendary Finals appearances

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  • Michael Jordan dunks for two against the Indiana Pacers during Game One of the Eastern Conference Finals Sunday, May 17, 1998, at the United Center in Chicago.

      Michael Jordan dunks for two against the Indiana Pacers during Game One of the Eastern Conference Finals Sunday, May 17, 1998, at the United Center in Chicago.
    Associated Press

  • Chicago Bulls' Scottie Pippen (33) shoots over Indiana Pacers' Dale Davis (32) during the second quarter of Game 2 in the Eastern Conference Finals Tuesday, May 19, 1998, in Chicago. (AP Photo/Michael S. Green)

      Chicago Bulls' Scottie Pippen (33) shoots over Indiana Pacers' Dale Davis (32) during the second quarter of Game 2 in the Eastern Conference Finals Tuesday, May 19, 1998, in Chicago. (AP Photo/Michael S. Green)

 
 

The first playoff road trip of the potential Derrick Rose dynasty will be to the same city where the Michael Jordan dynasty ended.

Or almost ended.

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The 1998 Eastern Conference finals between the Bulls and Indiana Pacers should go down as the most dramatic series of the Bulls' championship years. It was the only time the Bulls stared elimination in the face, trailing well into the fourth quarter of Game 7.

"It was. We battled with them," ex-Bulls forward Scottie Pippen said. "It was one of those games where we knew having homecourt advantage meant the most to us at that time."

The Bulls played just two seven-game series on the way to winning six championships and the team's other Game 7, in the second round against New York in 1992, was a ridiculous blowout.

In Game 7 against the Pacers at the United Center, Indiana led with less than six minutes remaining. Jordan and Pippen combined to shoot 35 percent and Jordan didn't score from the field in the last 7 minutes.

"Mid-fourth quarter they kind of took control of the game and it was a little scary," Steve Kerr said at the time.

The Bulls finally pulled out an 88-83 victory by building a 22-4 edge in offensive rebounds. They took the lead for good on a Pippen jumper with 4:45 left, then went on to beat Utah in the Finals.

"We had been down in games before," Pippen said. "It was just a testament to our poise and patience and allowing ourselves to get back into the game."

That series hasn't been forgotten, but it doesn't seem to have the legendary status as Bulls' wins in the Finals.

What the '98 Eastern finals needs is a defining moment. In the NBA Finals, the Bulls had Michael vs. Magic, The Shrug, Paxson For Three, The Bad Pizza Game and Jordan's Last Shot. There's got to be some sort of hook to Bulls-Pacers '98.

Market Square

The biggest difference between this series and 1998, besides Indiana being a No. 8 seed, is the loss of Market Square Arena. That building was unusual because you could drive beneath it as the arena sat above a garage.

Boston Garden and Madison Square Garden were both built over train stations. Was downtown Indianapolis so congested that the basketball arena needed to be a high-rise built over the street? Doubtful, but that's irrelevant.

One defining visual from the '98 Eastern finals was Pippen playing tight defense on Indiana point guard Mark Jackson in the backcourt. The Pacers complained that Pippen was fouling Jackson without any whistles. The Bulls could argue Pippen simply kept sliding within an inch of Jackson's personal space and Jackson created all the contact. Whichever is correct, that one might be too controversial to serve as a defining moment.

Game 4 featured one of the most memorable endings in playoff history. Indiana's Reggie Miller bumped into Jordan, curled toward the sideline, caught an inbounds pass and drained the game-winning 3-pointer with 0.7 seconds left. With a chance to answer, Jordan's desperation heave at the buzzer went halfway down the rim and rolled out.

Another fascinating visual was Pacers coach Larry Bird delivering one of the all-time stone faces. While Miller jumped in circles after his 3-point basket and Indy fans went crazy, Bird's expression never shifted from someone waiting for a dental appointment to begin.

Of course, the Pacers lost the series, so their success in Game 4 can't carry the memory of that series.

By the way, has a single team ever featured more future ESPN analysts than the Pacers? They had Miller, Jackson, Jalen Rose and Chris Mullin. Don't tell me Rik Smits is anchoring SportsCenter Amsterdam these days.

Racer X meets Phil

The defining moment doesn't necessarily have to happen in a game. There was plenty of memorable action behind the scenes.

In fact, there was a great missed photo opportunity before Game 3. This was Memorial Day Weekend, which meant the Indianapolis 500 was going on and the Pacers brought drivers to the arena to help with the hype.

This led to an interesting moment when A.J. Foyt headed off the court as Bulls coach Phil Jackson walked out of the tunnel. The two met at the basket, with Foyt staring down Jackson and Jackson marching obliviously forward. Two legends in different sports, meeting face-to-face, one roughly 15 inches taller. It was quite a sight.

There were some good media moments, too. The Pacers' secondary hero of that series was future Bulls guard Travis Best. Keep in mind, those were the days when every major paper in America followed the Bulls throughout the playoffs. At one point, Best was standing by himself after Pacers practice and took off running when he spotted a horde of reporters converging.

After Game 6, which took place on a Friday night, over-served Indiana fans taunted Chicago media on their way out of the building. Reporters can get touchy on tight deadlines, but these confrontations ended with only some bad language being spilled.

Another good moment happened between Games 3 and 4 when Dennis Rodman's entourage made its way across the hotel parking lot to the nearby Champps Restaurant. The group included Eddie Vedder, Carmen Electra and who knows who else.

Later, locals there gawked at Jordan and Ahmad Rashad dining together.

These are all good candidates, but for a single defining moment from Bulls-Pacers '98, I'll go with this one:

After the Bulls off-day practice at Market Square, the players were standing around the court doing interviews when someone started yelling from high up in the arena.

The arena didn't have an upper deck, but something like 105 rows of seats along the sidelines. Players and reporters looked skyward trying to identify the noise.

Turned out it was Bulls backup center Joe Kleine, who received no interview requests and decided to scale the arena steps and start yelling. It was pretty funny at the time.

So from now on, the series should be remembered by this moment. Bulls-Pacers Eastern Conference finals '98: "Kleine from Above." Done.

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