Share this article

print logo

PISTONS SHELVE FINESSE, TURN UGLY TO TIE SERIES

I'm not going to lie to you. This was not what you would classify as a pretty basketball game. If Game Four had walked into a singles bar, they'd have thrown a bag over its head and made it sit in the back booth facing the wall.

If your idea of fun is watching teams struggle to beat the 24-second clock, this was for you. Each team managed only 27 field goals. The Pistons shot 36 percent from the field. They missed 15 free throws, and still they found a way to win.

That should tell you something about Chicago's play. Even Michael Jordan, the country's darling, looked like the Elephant Man out there. He shot 5 for 15, missed five free throws, collected only two rebounds and generally seemed as if he'd forgotten to eat his Wheaties earlier in the day.

But don't tell any of this to Detroit head coach Chuck Daly. His team had just won, 86-80, squaring the Eastern Conference semifinals at two games apiece, and he found it all rather aesthetic.

"It depends on where you're coming from," Daly said. "If you're a true basketball fan, you saw a lot of beauty in that game. I'm talking about the effort, the physicalness, all of that. When you're in my position, those things are kind of beautiful."

Daly has come to appreciate efforts such as these. When conventional methods aren't working, he often turns the game over to his scrappy, inelegant second unit -- Vinnie and the Jets or the Swat Team, depending on whom you're talking to.

Early on, Daly determined his starting front line wasn't the answer. So he went to the NBA's best bench -- Dennis Rodman, Vinnie Johnson, John Salley and James Edwards -- which outscored the Bulls' subs, 34-2, and basically decided the outcome.

Rodman, Detroit's energetic sixth man, was the most lethal sub of all. "The Worm" was in his element Monday, squirming through for offensive rebounds, playing tough defense, even dodging an empty rum bottle that was thrown at him from the stands.

Some players (Jordan comes to mind) dominate by their sheer offensive talents. Rodman dominates in other, less artistic ways. Jordan creates. Rodman disrupts. And Monday was one of those days when disruption won out.

Rodman had 18 rebounds, eight off the offensive glass. He had 17 after only 21 minutes. He also kept countless other rebounds alive for his teammates, continually frustrating the Bulls' efforts to establish any sort of tempo.

A typical play occurred late in the third quarter with Detroit leading, 62-60. A Piston shot caromed off the rim and Rodman tapped it once to keep it alive. He tapped at it again, pushing it toward the sideline in front of the Pistons' bench. Then he leapt in the air, grabbed the ball and fired it to Isiah Thomas, who nailed a 20-footer just before the third-period buzzer sounded.

Cut ahead to the fourth quarter. Bulls trailing by five. Scottie Pippen takes the ball in the left corner and sails in for an apparent slam dunk. But Rodman slides over, thrusts out his chest and absorbs the full force of Pippen's drive. Offensive foul. Chicago would never draw closer than five again.

"Well, I just went out and did my job," said Rodman, whose job included guarding Jordan for most of the fourth quarter. "I've been doing it all year, but today I had to go out and assert myself as a rebounder. It's very hard to rebound when you're guarding Jordan, because he's out there on the perimeter and moving all the time, and you're trying to keep him off the board. Luckily, today I got some easy rebounds and everything worked out for us."

Easy rebounds, Dennis?

"You have to realize, I'm not a bulky kind of guy," said Rodman, who goes 6-foot-8, 210. "I think it's just a lot of hard work. I don't have a lot of offensive skills to really take me in there and bang with the big guys. It's just determination and going to get the ball. I feel like, hey, that ball is shot and it's missed, it's mine.

"It's down in your heart. If you want to dedicate yourself to rebounding, and do all the little things I do, hey, you're going to be a good rebounder and be around for a long time."

If he keeps having games like Monday's, the Pistons might be around for a bit longer, too. The question now for Daly is, does he go back to starting forwards Rick Mahorn and Mark Aguirre, who combined for 29 minutes and six points Monday, or stick with the younger, quicker Rodman and Salley?

"We were getting hurt a little bit with their (the Bulls') mobility, so I went to the bench early," Daly said. "There's no time now to worry about feelings or who's getting playing time. If we're going to go, some guys are going to get 48 minutes and other guys three. I hope it doesn't matter at this point."

Winning is what matters. If that means winning ugly, Daly can surely live with it.

There are no comments - be the first to comment