MEMPHIS, Tenn. – When Indiana Pacers guard George Hill knocked down four big free throws in the final 50 seconds of the Pacers’ Eastern Conference-evening Game 2 win Friday night, one of George’s biggest fans was glued to a TV set some 1,000 miles away.
“I watched the whole game,” San Antonio Spurs point guard and Hill’s former teammate Tony Parker said following Saturday morning’s shootaround in preparation for tonight’s Game 3 of the Western Conference finals (9 p.m. ET, ESPN). “We’ve been texting the whole playoffs. I always follow George. He’s like my little brother, so I always text him.”
The Spurs drafted Hill out of Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis with the 26th overall pick in 2008. In three seasons with the Spurs, the combo guard quickly became a reliable reserve behind Parker and Manu Ginobili, as well as a key fill-in starter at times when either Parker or Ginobili were injured.
So it came as a surprise when the Spurs pulled off the 2011 draft-day trade that sent Hill to his hometown Pacers in exchange for San Diego State’s Kawhi Leonard, who Indiana selected with the 15th pick. The trade is a rare one in that both sides got exactly what they wanted. Hill took over as the Pacers’ starting point guard at the end of last season and has been a central figure in Indiana’s rise and its run to the East finals.
Meanwhile, Leonard has fit into the Spurs’ plans flawlessly as the starting small forward, and is lauded by coach Gregg Popovich for improving the team’s defense and rebounding this season, while also becoming an offensive threat from almost any area on the floor.
In Friday’s Game 2 against the Miami Heat, Hill scored 18 points on 6-for-8 shooting in a team-high 41 minutes. With the game tied 93-93 and 48.9 seconds to go, Hill stepped to the free throw line for two crucial shots. He had missed all three of his previous attempts in the game, including a pair with about eight minutes to go in the game that could have put Indiana up five, but instead led to LeBron James giving Miami a one-point lead with a 3-pointer.
This time Hill nailed both free throws to give Indiana a 95-93 lead. He did it again with 8.3 seconds to go, this time sealing the game with a four-point cushion.
Parker said he texted Hill afterward.
“We’ve been in a lot of contact lately, [him] asking me advice and stuff like that,” Parker said. “So I try to do my job and be a good big brother. I am very proud of him and he’s playing great basketball.”
Parker was asked if he might regret giving Hill some of this advice if both teams advance to the NBA Finals.
Because if the Memphis Grizzlies, with their trio of All-Defensive Team performers, can’t slow down shifty San Antonio Spurs point guard Tony Parker in tonight’s Game 3 as the Western Conference finals finally resume at the “Grindhouse” (9 p.m. ET, ESPN), this series is history.
“It’s not easy is it?” Defensive Player of the Year Marc Gasol said following the team’s shootaround. “They do a good job of creating space, creating gaps. It helps them having Matt Bonner spread out or Danny Green in the corner helps, or Manu [Ginobili], that helps creating those gaps and those lanes. But we have to do a better job of staying on the ball, pressuring him, attacking him on the other end.”
That responsibility lies with Mike Conley and Tony Allen.
As Gasol said, it ain’t easy. Parker’s killed Memphis all season. In four regular season games he averaged 25.5 ppg and 6.5 apg. He shot 50.7 percent from the floor and got to the free throw line 30 times, more than against any team except Houston (31). In the first two games of the West finals, Parker’s gone for 20 and nine, and was still lethal in Game 2 on a 6-for-20 night with 15 points and 18 assists.
Parker’s first step is the key. Once he’s by his man, he’s in the lane and at that point is options — drive it all the way, toss up a floater, kick it out for a 3 — seem endless.
“He’s top five for sure,” Conley said, ranking Parker’s quickness against other top point guards. “But the thing is it doesn’t look quick, but it’s deceptive. He’s very quick with his first step and he’s good and crafty with the ball once he gets around you, which makes it even worse. I love to guard the best. I love to guard Tony. We’ve got a lot of defensive-minded guys on our team and I’m one of them, so I love the challenge.
“But I’ll also do whatever it takes for our team as well. If Tony Allen’s the better matchup or maybe he does a little bit better on him than I do I’m fine with it and I’ll let him do that.”
As for Allen, who helped turn the second-round series with his late-game defense on Kevin Durant, sticking Parker more in Game 3?
“How much more do you want Tony Parker to be guarded by Allen?” Grizzlies coach Lionel Hollins retorted. “He’s been guarding him most of the series. If I put him more it would be the whole game. Is that what you want?”
Parker said the calf bruise that bothered him in the last round is now fine and that the three-day break between games was a wonderful thing for him, allowing him to get plenty treatment, plenty of rest and plenty of time to think about how the Grizzlies will attack him.
“I’m going to try to adapt to whatever defense they’re going to do, if they’re going to trap me or whatever, I’m going to have to trust my teammates. I’ve been doing that all season long so whatever they are going to propose, I am going to take whatever the defense gives.”
Conley said the plan is for him and whoever else takes a turn on Parker to apply pressure earlier and make Parker work harder to get the Spurs into their sets. Then it becomes a defense-on-a-string concept to defend their precision pick-and-rolls and keep Parker from slithering into the lane at will.
“We had the same issue with Chris Paul,” Hollins said. “They’re great point guards and great point guards figure out a way to get in the paint. You just got to limit those amount of times that they get there and make sure that guys are flowing back to their own men so they’re not giving up wide-open 3s.”
MIAMI – There was some talk after Game 2 of the Eastern Conference finals about the Indiana Pacers being more of a team than the Miami Heat, because they have five guys who contribute and can come up with a big game on any given night, while the champs have three stars who carry the bulk of the load.
Now, that’s mostly a bunch of nonsense. All five Indiana starters have scored at least 25 points in a game in this postseason, but Miami didn’t win a title last year without significant contributions from multiple players beyond LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh.
The problem is that the Heat aren’t getting those contributions right now, and they aren’t getting back to The Finals if they don’t get production out of their role players against the Pacers.
We’ve seen this before, and it wasn’t that long ago. The New York Knicks’ role players all seemed to disappear in the conference semifinals. Carmelo Anthony got his 28.5 points per game, but nobody else could really get open and the league’s third-best offense was held to barely a point per possession over six games.
The Miami offense, which ranked No. 1 in the regular season and through the first two rounds of the playoffs, hasn’t been nearly that bad, but the Pacers are basically doing the same thing. James is getting his, but the offense isn’t running at full capacity, because other guys aren’t getting open.
This is what the Pacers do. They let Paul George guard the opponent’s best player by himself, they defend pick-and-rolls with just the two guys involved, they don’t over-help, and they stay at home on shooters. They had quite a few pick-and-roll breakdowns in Game 1, but didn’t make any real adjustments in Game 2. They stayed true to their defensive system, did what they do better, and continued to keep Miami’s 3-point shooting in check.
Heat coach Erik Spoelstra wants his shooters hunting down shots, and James said after Game 2 that it’s on him, Wade and Bosh to get the shooters involved.
“We have to figure out how to get them some shots early in the game,” James said, “where they feel like they’re part of the offense. That has to come from me, come from D-Wade, come from CB. We’re the three guys that have the ball in our hands a lot.”
But that’s a lot easier said than done against this opponent. Indiana ranked No. 1 in 3-point defense in the regular season and they’ve held the Heat to 12-for-40 (30 percent) from beyond the arc through the first two games of this series.
Seven of those 12 threes have come from James (five) and Bosh (two). The Heat’s role players are a combined 5-for-21 (24 percent) from 3-point range. With Wade far from 100 percent, the shooting problems are all the more painful.
Spoelstra also said that he cares more about how many threes Shane Battier and Ray Allen take than how many they make. But with both shooting poorly, he called on Mike Miller in the second quarter of Game 2. Miller drained a three at the halftime buzzer, but didn’t see the floor after that.
Maybe we’ll see more of Miller as the series moves to Indiana. Battier’s and Allen’s struggles go beyond this series. Battier has shot 12-for-52 (23 percent) from 3-point range in the playoffs, while Allen is 5-for-23 (22 percent) since the start of the conference semifinals.
Rewind to last year though. Through the first three games of the conference semifinals against the Pacers, Miami was shooting a brutal 5-for-42 (12 percent) from 3-point range. They recovered, shot 21-for-48 (44 percent) the rest of the series, and then Battier went off (15-for-26) in The Finals.
A similar turnaround in this series would give the Heat a chance to play for their second straight championship. But this Indiana defense is much better than last year’s. George is improved, Roy Hibbert is more of a presence inside, and their pick-and-roll defense is different. They ranked just 16th in 3-point defense last season.
While this series has been physical and points in the paint are always critical, it may be the points from outside that determine the winner.
The Indiana Pacers were in this same position last year, tied 1-1 with the Miami Heat and heading back to Bankers Life Fieldhouse with home-court advantage in their back pocket. They took a 2-1 series lead that time, before dropping the next three games to the eventual champs.
No matter how good the Pacers looked against the New York Knicks in the previous round and how close they were to winning Game 1, you probably didn’t see this coming.
The Heat’s worst game of the previous series was Game 1, after a similarly long layoff. And as easily as they got into the paint on Wednesday, the were never clicking on all cylinders offensively, committing too many careless turnovers and unable to get their 3-point shooters on track.
The Pacers, meanwhile, could have been deflated after the disappointment of Game 1. They could have been bitter after Frank Vogel took Roy Hibbert off the floor for the final two defensive possessions and after answering countless questions about that decision over the last 48 hours.
They could have got too wrapped up in the officiating after whistles early in the second quarter went the Heat’s way and helped the champs erase a double-digit Indiana lead. They could have watched LeBron James drain buzzer beaters and block seven footers and thought that there was no beating the best player in the world when he’s having one of those nights.
They could have seen the ball in James hands with the game on the line on two straight possessions in the final minute and wondered how they could stop him.
The Pacers overcame all of that, answered every Heat run, hit big shots, and stopped James on both of those possessions to walk away with a much-earned victory.
“They had great plays, but we didn’t waiver,” Hibbert said. “A lot of times, teams just start buckling, and we’ve been through the wringer before. We’re young guys, but we know what we’re doing.”
This was a complete performance. Offensively, the Pacers scored 97 points on just 86 possessions. The Heat’s aggressive defense kept them from getting into their offense quickly or consistently, David West struggled from the field, and they got basically nothing from their bench. But they found ways to score.
Paul George (22 points, six assists, 9-for-16 shooting) ascended one more step toward stardom, consistently beating his man off the dribble, throwing down the dunk of the playoffs on Chris Andersen, and hit a plethora of big shots. Roy Hibbert scored a career-playoff-high 29 points, using his size in the post and on the glass, while also showing some finesse as a roll man. And George Hill (18 points, 6-for-8 shooting) was aggressive as the ball-handler on those pick-and-rolls, something the Pacers desperately needed.
Heat coach Erik Spoelstra will tell you that a playoff series comes down to which team can best impose its own identity on its opponent. And the Pacers remained true to their style, playing physical both offensively (getting to the line 32 times) and defensively.
The Heat were somewhat efficient (93 points on 87 possessions), but for the second straight game, looked nothing like the No. 1 offense in the league. James scored 36 points, but didn’t get much help and he coughed the ball up on those two spotlight possessions with the Pacers leading 95-93.
This time, Hibbert was on the floor. While Vogel had his reasoning for sitting the 7-foot-2 center at the end of Game 1, he might never make that same decision.
“As soon as we came to the locker room the other night,” Vogel said, “I told the team we tried that way, but he’s going to be in there.”
On the first play, West (who was the main culprit in a lot of the Pacers’ Game 1 defensive breakdowns) stopped James’ momentum and held his containment until George was able to recover. And when James tried to get the ball back to Ray Allen, West got his hands on the pass.
On the second play, George fought through Mario Chalmers‘ screen, basically needing no help from his teammates and stopping James in his tracks before he could get to the basket. And when James saw Allen open on the other side of the floor, West again stepped in front of the pass.
“We stayed in front of him,” George said. “We knew that if it was going to happen, it was going to happen on a tough shot, a contested shot. Everybody was in the gap ready to help each other. That is how we play defense.”
And that was how they played defense most of the night. Rather make an adjustment to the way the Heat was running it pick-and-rolls in Game 1, the Pacers knew they just had to defend better. And they did just that, containing those pick-and-rolls while not letting Miami’s shooters get free.
This is why the Pacers were the No. 1 defensive team in the league. And this is why this year feels different. Until they lose four times, the Heat are still the best team in the league. But they have a serious challenge on their hands, and the Pacers will fly home on Saturday knowing that they’ve been the better team over the first two games.
“This whole team is showing great desire and great heart and great belief,” Vogel said. “They believe we can win this series.”
MEMPHIS, Tenn. – The least-talked about story throughout this postseason run by the Memphis Grizzlies has been the late January trade of leading scorer Rudy Gay. In fact, it really hasn’t been a topic of discussion at all.
That’s probably because the Grizz have done quite well — thank you very much — without him. They posted a team regular-season-best 56 wins and are in the Western Conference finals for the first time in franchise history. And, look, you can’t find an analytics guy worth his scientific calculator to suggest the Grizz even remotely miss Gay, a small forward the number-crunchers view disdainfully as a black hole. Gay, with a rap as an inefficient scorer who took shots away from big men Zach Randolph and Marc Gasol, and also apparently stunted the growth of point guard Mike Conley.
But, desperately needing a first win in Game 3 this series against the San Antonio Spurs Saturday night at the FedExForum (9 p.m. ET, ESPN), what would the Grizz give to just have a scoring threat on the perimeter? The Spurs are jamming up the paint because there’s no repercussion for leaving Memphis’ wings open.
Gay’s replacement, Tayshaun Prince, has not been good offensively. OK, so maybe some of that had to do with him chasing Kevin Durant for three quarters every game in the second round. There’s no doubt that Prince — with his 6-foot-9 frame and long, gangly arms — is a better defender than Gay, more team-oriented on the offensive end and will move the ball before he puts up a contested shot.
But, at some point, the Grizz have got to get some scoring from their starting small forward — who hasn’t scored in double figures since May 3, Game 6 of the Clippers series in the first round.
In the first two games of the West finals he’s 3-for-10 from the field for eight points. He’s taken two free throws. That has a lot to do with why Prince played just 16 minutes in Game 2, scoring a playoff-low two points, while reserve Quincy Pondexter logged 37 minutes — and scored just seven points with nine rebounds.
Since then, a hot topic has been the possibility for coach Lionel Hollins to alter his starting five. However, on Friday, Hollins said he has no plans to make such a move.
“Whatever it takes to win,” Prince said. “I’ve always been that way and nothing changes for me. Whatever happens, happens. I’ve never been in a position where I’m worried or concerned about how I’m shooting. I just have to continue to stay confident and when the shots are available take them.”
No one will ever confuse Prince for being a volume scorer or shooter such as Gay. Prince’s best scoring season was 14.7 ppg back in 2004-05. His career scoring average 12.6 ppg on 45.8 percent shooting. The Grizz would be thrilled with such an uptick.
“He’s going to come along. I believe in him,” said shooting guard Tony Allen, whose scoring and shooting percentage have tapered off this series to playoff low 8.0 ppg and 35.7 percent from the floor. “I ain’t really worried about that too much. I know he can ball, so I believe in him.”
Prince’s scoring average and shooting percentage has dropped with each series from 8.5 and 40.4 percent against the Clippers; to 6.2 and 29.5 percent against the Thunder; and now 4.0 and 30.0 in the first two games against the Spurs. OK, so maybe some of that has to do with Prince being guarded by Durant last round and now Spurs up-and-comer Kawhi Leonard.
So how can Prince get jump-started? Everyone associated with Memphis is talking about pace. Not running up and down the floor like they’re the Nuggets, which they’re not, but simply by pushing the ball into the halfcourt quicker and getting into their sets earlier in the shot clock. They believe they’re dragging, whether it’s taking the ball out of bounds or off defensive rebounds, and allowing the disciplined Spurs’ defense to clamp down and force too many bad shots with the clock ticking down.
“No question,” Hollins said. “That’s what we’ve been trying to preach this whole series is we need to get up and down the court and not let San Antonio set their defense and call plays with 15 seconds left on the shot clock.”
Prince said it should be evident in the first quarter Saturday if the Grizz are indeed successfully quickening the pace.
“It will kind of dictate how we shoot the ball,” Prince said. “We have to get into our pace a lot quicker and those shots will come a little bit more natural, come a little bit more easier. You’ll have more rhythm shots, more rhythm opportunities.”
HANGTIME HEADQUARTERS — The never-ending competition to determine the best shooter in the family is on hold.
“[For] right now,” Seth Curry interjected.
The younger brother of the NBA star is recovering from a stress reaction in the left shin, and maybe this isn’t the best time for anyone – in the family, in the league, in the solar system –to call out the older brother after the way Stephen Curry dismantled defenses during the Warriors’ playoff run. So, yes, for right now.
The problem is, this is a critical time as Seth tries to follow dad Dell Curry, an elite 3-point threat as a 16-year veteran with five teams, and Stephen to the NBA. The draft is about five weeks away and Seth, a possibility for the second round, said he expects to be sidelined another three weeks or so, and maybe longer. The realization has set in that he may go from playing hurt as a senior at Duke to not getting a chance to audition for teams before the June 27 selections to prove what he can do healthy.
“Late-June,” Seth said of the schedule to get back on the court. “I might be able to work out. I might not be able to work out. … Not being able to play in front of them during this process is a tough thing. But hopefully they just see my body of work this year and realize I was injured all year. I’ll come back stronger and see what happens.”
He does have the lengthy resume – the experience of being a prominent player in an elite program, the time running the point that expanded his game beyond being more than strictly a shooting guard, the toughness to play hurt. Even the senior season that could have been so bad resulted in an impressive line. Curry considered sitting out the season after learning of the shin injury in September, but played and finished first on the team and second in the Atlantic Coast Conference in scoring while making 43.8 percent of his 3-pointers, and only then had surgery in mid-April to insert a rod to help the leg heal.
He can’t run or cut for another few weeks and only recently began to do light work to strengthen the muscles and build up both legs that have mostly been kept inactive for a month. He can take stationary shots close to the rim.
“It’s the first time I’ve ever been injured in my life,” Curry said. “Not being able to go on the court whenever I want and work out, and seeing all these other guys being able to compete in workouts and I won’t be able to do that. It’s tough.”
Pacers guard George Hill had ice on his sprained left big toe after the team’s shootaround Friday morning, but said he would be ready to play Friday in Game 2 of the team’s Eastern Conference finals series against Miami, report’s TNT analyst David Aldridge. Hill suffered the injury in the second half of Game 1 on Wednesday.
MIAMI – It’s another game day on Biscayne Bay, so it’s well past time to put the Vogel/Hibbert thing behind us. It’s done with, the Pacers proved that they can hang with the Heat, and they have another chance to steal home-court advantage in Game 2 on Friday (8:30 p.m. ET, TNT).
Besides, more concerning than the two layups that LeBron James got with Roy Hibbert off the floor in the final 11 seconds of overtime were the other 56 points in the paint the Heat scored in Game 1, 2 of which came with Hibbert on the floor.
The 60 points in the paint were almost twice as many as the Heat averaged (30.7) in three regular season games against the Pacers and, appropriately, were the focus of the Pacers’ film session on Thursday. The Heat shot 11-for-42 from outside the paint on Wednesday and committed 21 turnovers, but still had a solid offensive game (103 points on 97 possessions), because they were able to get to the basket so often against a defense that has typically protected it better than any other team in the league.
“We got to keep them off the glass,” Pacers coach Frank Vogel said Thursday. “We got to keep them out of transition more than we did. And we got to clean up our coverages in the half court, so we don’t allow so many straight-line drives at the rim like we did [in Game 1]. And I think we can do that.”
Though there was that example of James getting an and-one when the Pacers failed to get back after a dead-ball turnover, the Heat registered only 11 fast break points on Tuesday, a not-so unacceptable amount given the Pacers’ nine live-ball turnovers. And Miami’s 16 offensive boards (and 24 second-chance points) were mostly a product of those “straight-line drives at the rim” forcing the Pacers’ bigs to help and rotate. So if the Pacers can curtail those, they’ll be in decent shape in Game 2.
The problem is that the Heat have James, the trump card to any adjustments a team might make. Still, there are some adjustments to be made, because the Heat ran their offense a lot differently in Game 1 than the New York Knicks did in the conference semifinals.
Though many of their possessions eventually turned into isolations, the Knicks did run a lot of pick-and-rolls. But they mostly ran them at Roy Hibbert, without much variation. With Hibbert’s man acting as the screener, he was able to pose a threat to the man with the ball, while also staying within reach of his man rolling to the basket (who was still in front of him).
The Heat didn’t run many pick-and-rolls at Hibbert, instead using a guard or David West‘s man as the screener and leaving Hibbert’s man on the baseline, forcing Hibbert to make a decision between the guy attacking the basket or his man behind him.
“They had a more intelligent plan against Roy Hibbert than New York did,” Vogel said. “It was effective last night and we got to adjust to it.”
Of course, the Heat’s plan wouldn’t have been a huge issue for the Pacers if West was able to contain the ball-handler better than he did.
Here’s an example where Chris Bosh sets a high screen for James, who is able to get around West.
At this point, both West and Sam Young (James’ defender) are trailing the play. James goes straight at Hibbert, gets the big man to leave the floor, and dumps the ball off the Chris Birdman, who throws down two of his 16 points.
There were countless examples in Game 1 of West getting burned on pick-and-rolls. In fact, on the very next play, James goes right by West with his left hand. He misses a scoop shot that Hibbert contests, but Andersen is right there to tip in the miss.
Another wrinkle that the Heat used was running a lot of pick-and-rolls toward the baseline, instead of toward the middle, something the Knicks had a little success with in the last round, but probably didn’t try often enough.
The Heat ran it quite a bit in the fourth quarter and overtime, mostly with Norris Cole as the ball-handler and Shane Battier (being defended by West) as the screener.
Here, West doesn’t get totally burned, but Cole uses a little in-and-out dribble move to get to the basket and draw Hibbert’s help.
Cole could hit Bosh, who is wide open in the corner here, but the advantage of the ball being on the baseline is that the defense is turned inside-out and defenders have to turn their heads away from their man. That’s exactly what Lance Stephenson does, and Dwyane Wade takes advantage by cutting to the basket. Cole dishes to Wade, who hits a short floater over West.
When West overplayed that toward-the-baseline pick-and-roll, Norris Cole went the other way, drew Ian Mahinmi‘s attention, and got Birdman another dunk …
West carried the Pacers’ offense in the first half on Wednesday and finished with 26 points. But he was largely responsible for many of the Heat’s points on the other end of the floor. And if Indiana is going to keep Miami out of the paint in Game 2, it has to start with his containment on pick-and-rolls.
HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS – If Game 1 of the Eastern Conference finals was any indication, we should be in store for an entire series that could go down as an instant classic.
That would eliminate the need for any off-court hype-including Twitter beefs, random pot shots through the media and any of the other extra-curricular foolishness that can sidetrack some good ol’ fashioned playoff-level drama that happens on the court.
U can knee or kick me every time u drive 2the rim. Ill be there 2protect the rim. That wasn't inadvertent. Battier knew what he was doing— Roy Hibbert (@Hoya2aPacer) May 23, 2013
Calling out Heat forward Shane Battier for being a dirty player isn’t a crime. Surely, Battier has been called worse throughout the course of his college (Duke) and professional career. Doing it now, though, with Game 2 of this series just hours away (8:30 p.m. ET, TNT), is just completely unnecessary.
CHICAGO – Phil Jackson has been hitting it hard on his book tour this week, talking up his latest work on late-night TV and national radio broadcasts. Still, in a spate of appearances in the city where his unparalleled NBA coaching success began, the talk invariably has veered back to the one that got away.
The book is titled “Eleven Rings: The Soul of Success” (Penguin Press, 2013). People in Chicago, where rings are hard to come by, still wonder about that missing 12th.
Oh, there wasn’t much Jackson or anyone else with the Bulls could do about the 1994 and ’95 NBA titles seized by Houston during the first of Michael Jordan‘s three NBA retirements. And no one in the audience Thursday night at the Palmer House Hilton, where Jackson appeared as part of the Chicago Tribune’s Printers Row literary series, cared much about the Lakers’ failure to win again in 2011 and finish off what would have been Jackson’s fourth three-peat.
But many in the Windy City crowd of about 750 wanted to know: What about 1999? That was the NBA’s first lockout-shortened season, a schedule that seemed perfect for a veteran-laden team like the Bulls.
And yet, they didn’t even try. The band broke up, the run was over. Jackson famously rode off on a fat motorcycle and Chicago’s NBA team all but went dark for the next half dozen seasons.
Coach Phil Jackson talks with the Chicago Tribune’s K.C. Johnson (right) as he discusses his new book, ‘Eleven Rings’, and his long NBA career. (Courtesy Chicago Tribune)
“I know how hard it is, so many people in Chicago say, ‘You could have continued to win,’ ” Jackson told the audience. “Yes – maybe.”
Ultimately it was Jerry Krause, the Bulls’ determined general manager, who brought that run to its end, the Hall of Fame former coach said.
As stubborn as Jackson or Jordan (and often butting heads with both), Krause had made it clear to the Bulls coach that his run there was over. Team chairman Jerry Reinsdorf asked him to return but Jackson declined. “I just felt our relationship had deteriorated such that, for me to come back, it would be too difficult for Jerry Krause.”
That was the first domino. Jordan didn’t want to play for another coach and, besides, he cut his finger – with a cigar cutter, the story went – badly enough to need surgery. Dennis Rodman essentially was done as an NBA player. Scottie Pippen, Luc Longley and Steve Kerr went elsewhere to get paid better than in their Chicago stays.
It’s doubtful Krause would fill a downtown ballroom on a night the NHL Blackhawks were active in the Stanley Cup playoffs, touting a book titled “Organizations Win Rings” or something like that.
“Right up until the end, we worked well together,” Jackson said, after acknowledging their different temperaments. “We had a wonderful time as a team for three years and we really appreciated it.”