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Jordan, Bulls Exemplify Greatness Against Celtics

By Chris Brocoum
staff reporter

The one, single thing that defines true greatness, is the ease with which the Great Ones display it. By definition, the reason they are so great is that they routinely do the impossible and make it look easy. I was lucky enough to attend a lesson in greatness Tuesday evening when the World Champion Chicago Bulls came to town to play the Celtics at the Fleet Center. Despite the Celtics' atrocious season, the near-capacity crowd was treated to an exceptional show.

Thanks to the Bulls trio of Michael Jordan, Scottie Pippen, and Dennis Rodman, but with a little help from Jason Caffey, and Boston's Antoine Walker, Eric Williams, and the rest of the Celtics, a game billed as a rout turned out to be a good game.

The entire atmosphere outside the Fleet Center was electric, like nothing that has been evident in a long while before a Celtics game. Hordes of people streamed into the arena, all abuzz, and amazingly, decked out in Chicago Bulls red and black just as often as in Celtic green.

Prior to introductions, fans milled around anxiously at courtside. Kids trailing parents with cameras tugging at their neck wondered aloud "When are they coming out, daddy?"

As the clock on the scoreboard counted to tip off, the arena swelled with noise as people continued to file in. And then the Celtics entered to begin layup drills, welcomed by a smattering of applause and even a few boos.

The crowd was growing restless. Then a roar quickly spread through the crowd as the Chicago Bulls decked in their unmistakable warm-ups entered. Flash bulbs popped ad infinitum as the crowd could rest assured that Michael Jordan and Company had shown up and were ready to play.

It was difficult not to feel bad for the Celtics. Why should these opponents, this team from Chicago, get the welcome deserved of the home team? As warm up subsided and the teams prepared from introductions, again the entire arena grew hushed, not for the home team but for the Bulls.

During the introductions, the applause Pippen and Rodman drew exploded with the final Bull: "At guard, from North Carolina, number 23, Michael Jordan." And the game began.

Initially, I was worried that the game might disappoint, that it might be a rout with the second strings playing the second half. This doubt was quickly mitigated as Jordan casually missed his first four shots.

It turned out that Pippen was to be the go to guy in the first quarter. He scored a flurry of 14 points in the period with classic slashing drives and jumpers. Still, the Celtics kept pace. All the while Jordan seemed distant, as if his mind was not on the game at hand.

The first quarter ended at a torrid pace: score tied at 29. The second quarter continued much of the same. Sloppy play dominated both teams, and the crowd grew restless. Seemingly effortlessly the Bulls glided to a double-digit lead.

The Celtics seemed near-death, lacking the will to even entertain the Bulls, with the score, 5135. But the second quarter wound down with a Celtic run, and they went to halftime: Bulls 59, Celtics 51.

The game was closer than anyone would have thought. Jordan had still been a nonfactor, Pippen had cooled a little, and instead Walker and Williams seemed eager to steal the show.

The third quarter saw the Bulls again toying with a double-digit lead, but the Celtics kept nipping at their heels. Suddenly, instead of applause every time Jordan touches the ball, there was a huge ovation for every Boston basket as they keep pace and even gain on the Bulls.

It was almost as if the crowd could not decide who to root for - the home team Celtics, or the 90s global team, the Bulls. And all of a sudden, the 18,624 fans realized that there was a serious ball game going on.

As the organ and jumbotron urged on the noise and cheers, the fouls got harder, each shot more important and each turnover more devastating. Quietly, a certain thus-far elusive guard started to play.

It was barely noticeable at first. Toward the end of the third quarter each time downcourt, the legs and hands moved a little quicker, number 23 playing with increasing purpose. But still, the game hung in the balance.

The third quarter ended with the Celtics trailing only by two, 8684 after having taken a two-point lead late in the quarter. And the crowd loved it. Not only were the Celtics in a position to pull one out, they were in a close game with none other than the Chicago Bulls.

The roof was ready to tumble. But the fourth quarter was all Jordan. Unfortunately or not, depending on whom you were rooting for, Jordan went into a somewhat toned-down version of his vintage heroics.

Literally every time down the floor, 23 called for the ball. Every single time Jordan would create either cutting to the lane, crossing over for a quick "J" or dishing off to the open man.

Suddenly, there was no question who was The Man. Jordan was all over the court forcing turnovers, talking trash, and generally ruining the Celtics' night. But the crowd didn't mind too much because that was part of what they had come to the Fleet Center hoping to see.

While all in all, the night was not a particularly spectacular outing for Jordan, he provided his share of moments. The best was undoubtedly late in the fourth quarter when he intercepted a pass intended for David Wesley on the left wing, and spun his way tightroping along the sideline.

Although the game had already been decided at this point, the entire crowd leapt to its feet and collectively held its breath. Jordan saw nothing but empty court between himself and the looming basket as he darted down the sideline. Cameras rose up instinctively, but then a dismayed sigh overran the entire place as the play was called back for a reach-in foul on Wesley.

Jordan did not have a dunk the whole game, and he finished with a respectable 32 points, nine assists, and four rebounds. Pippen chipped in 27 points, eight rebounds, and seven assists.

Talk about effortless production. It didn't even seem like they worked for more than a dozen minutes in the third and fourth quarter, and still the Bulls walked away with one more win, 117106.

But then again, that is what greatness means. And the 18,624 at the Fleet Center walked away knowing they had just gotten the extraordinary opportunity to add a little to the magic and the mystique.