The Chicago Bulls and Michael Jordan finally found the way to win on their home floor against the Phoenix Suns on Wednesday night.
After five losses by the home team in five meetings between the Suns and Chicago this season, Jordan took the ball inside and scored 55 points, leading the Bulls to a 111-105 victory and a 3-1 lead in the NBA Finals.
The Bulls, whose only loss in the series was in triple-overtime Sunday night, are one victory away from a three-peat. No team in Finals history has come back from a 3-1 deficit.
Jordan, criticized for primarily shooting jump shots despite scoring 43 points in Game 3, made 21-of-37 shots from the floor; 12 of those baskets were inside, including a decisive three-point play with 13 seconds left. Jordan's aggressiveness also resulted in 18 free throws, 12 more than he had in the triple-overtime defeat. It was Jordan's 33rd career 50-point game.
"I'm very disappointed with the way I played the last game," Jordan said. "I wanted to do my part in this game. I was a little nervous at the beginning of the game."
Jordan, the fourth player to score 50 in the Finals and the first since Jerry West in 1969, is averaging 43.0 in the series. The NBA Finals record is 40.8 by Rick Barry for San Francisco in 1967.
Charles Barkley led the Suns with 32 points, 12 rebounds and 10 assists, showing few ill effects from an injured right elbow.
Horace Grant added 17 points and 16 rebounds for the Bulls, and six of his seven baskets were on offensive rebounds or dunks.
Chicago, which shot just 60 percent from the free-throw line, led by 13 late in the third quarter, but the resilient Suns closed to 86-85 in the second minute of the fourth period. Jordan's jumper and layup started and finished a 9-4 run that put the Bulls ahead 95-89 with 6:49 left.
Phoenix again bounced back, and a free throw by Kevin Johnson made it 97-94 with 4:22 to go. Jordan's three-point play, on another drive to the basket, and B.J. Armstrong's jumper made it 102-94.
Johnson, who scored 19 points, hit two more baskets to cut it to 102-98 with 2:41 left. Grant's fourth putback gave the Bulls a 106-100 lead at the 1:47 mark, but two baskets by Barkley _ a putback and a dunk _ made it 106-102 with 1:01 left.
After a Bulls timeout, Barkley stole the ball and
fed it to Johnson at midcourt. Johnson hit Dan Majerle at the foul line, but Scottie Pippen stripped Majerle of the ball with 39 seconds left.
Pippen again knocked the ball away, this time from Barkley, with 33 seconds left, forcing the Suns to inbound the ball again. Johnson fumbled Danny Ainge's inbounds pass into B.J. Armstrong's hands with 29 seconds left. Jordan ended up with the ball and drove the lane, where he hit a scoop layup and was fouled by Barkley. Jordan hit the free throw for a 109-104 lead with 13.3 seconds left.
The Bulls are seeking to become the third franchise in NBA history to win three consecutive championships. Boston won eight in a row from 1959-66 and the Minneapolis Lakers captured the title from 1952-54.
Chicago, which needed five games to beat the Los Angeles Lakers in 1991 and six to defeat Portland last year, improved their 1993 playoff record to 14-3. Phoenix fell to 12-10.
The Bulls are 9-1 at home in the 1993 playoffs.
The Bulls led 61-58 at halftime and opened a 72-62 lead with an 11-2 run featuring two three-point plays by Jordan.
Jordan had a jumper and two free throws in a 7-0 run late in the third quarter, giving Chicago its largest lead to that point, 84-71.
The Suns bounced back with a 10-2 burst in the final 1:52 of the period, closing the deficit to 86-81 going into the last 12 minutes.
Jordan had 33 points in the first half, two shy of his NBA Finals record, as the Bulls took a 61-58 halftime lead. Jordan had Chicago's first 16 points of the second period and 22 for the quarter. Detroit's Isiah Thomas holds the Finals record with 25 in one period.