Michael Jordan's "supporting cast," as the Chicago Bulls guard has often called his teammates, rallied around their injured superstar Sunday to help produce a shocking 97-82 victory over the Los Angeles Lakers in Game 4 of the NBA Finals and take a commanding 3-1 lead in the best-of-seven series. With Jordan on the mend from a bruised right toe suffered in the previous game, the rest of the Bulls pulled their weight and lessened some of the pressure Jordan has felt in this series.
The path for the "supporting cast" and its moment of glory was paved by Jordan, who devastated the Lakers with another all-around performance. Eleven of 20 from the floor. Six for six from the line. Five rebounds. Thirteen assists. Two blocks. Twenty-eight points.
Jordan led five Bulls in double figures, with John Paxson's 15 points vying with Scottie Pippen's 14 points and nine rebounds and Horace Grant's 14 points and seven rebounds as the most significant other contributions.
"It's great to see the other guys step up and make contributions," said Jordan, who played 44 minutes.
Jordan said his toe "feels good. I knew I was going to play with some soreness and pain. That's what winning does for you."
The Lakers approach Game 5 Wednesday night at the Great Western Forum thinking the unthinkable. No team has ever rallied from a 3-1 deficit to win the NBA title.
"We're in a ditch, not a hole, a ditch," Lakers coach Mike Dunleavy said. "We have to take one game at a time and play as hard as we can and see if we can get one game here."
This was, in fact, a night for the lesser-sung Bulls to thrive.
You could be excused for thinking that makeshift lineup on the floor at crucial parts of the second quarter wasn't exactly the Bulls of this potential championship season.
The Bulls were playing without Paxson and Grant and Bill Cartwright, who were resting on the bench, and Jordan, who left briefly to relieve the pressure on his bruised toe. They were playing with guys like Craig Hodges and Cliff Levingston and Scott Williams.
And they were winning anyway.
The Bulls reserves outscored the Lakers reserves 12-5 in the first half. In fact, Chicago's bench outscored Laker starters James Worthy, Sam Perkins and Byron Scott, who combined for 11 first-half points.
Perkins shot 1-of-15 overall for three points, and Worthy, limping noticeably on his badly sprained left ankle, finished with 12 points on 6-of-16 shooting. Worthy's status for Wednesday night is questionable.
But it was Scott who continues to baffle the Lakers. Scott, who injured his shoulder in the second half, attempted only four shots in 34 minutes. He hit a jumper with 10 minutes, 50 seconds to go in the third quarter after missing 10 straight field goals dating to Game 2.
Sunday, the head-to-head matchup between Jordan and Magic Johnson was inconsequential and fleeting.
Johnson scored 22 points, to go along with 11 assists. Most of his passes were directed at center Vlade Divac, perhaps the Lakers' most consistent performer in the championship series. Divac led the Lakers with 27 points and 11 rebounds.
The Bulls, however, put so much pressure on the Lakers' guards, Johnson in particular, that they simply could not deliver the ball to their scorers at the proper places on the floor.
The Lakers shot 36.6 percent (30-of-82). The Bulls shot at a 52.5 percent clip (42-of-80).
To re-knit the fabric of his team after the Game 3 loss, Dunleavy pleaded with his club to display more intensity and aggressiveness. Former Lakers center Kareem Abdul-Jabbar sat on the bench, offering emotional support.
Reminded of the way they were in earlier playoff series victories over Portland, Golden State and Houston, the Lakers made two final, futile attempts at victory in the second half.
After the Bulls constructed a 16-point lead at the end of three quarters (74-58), Johnson helped pull the Lakers within 74-65, banking in a blind layup, drawing contact and making the three-point play.
The Lakers then rallied within 78-71 late in the final period, but the Bulls, seemingly scoring at will, absorbed the blow, re-coiled and took a 93-79 lead.
Momentum lost, the Lakers now contemplate their bleak future against the upstart Bulls.