Bulls Climb on Jordan's Aching Back

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Byline: Kent McDill Daily Herald Sports Writer

Apparently, the only player not affected by Michael Jordan's sore back Sunday was Jordan himself.

Baskets were at a premium, defense was the flavor of the day, and the New York Knicks were close to pulling off the upset win in Chicago they need to give the Bulls a battle in the Eastern Conference semifinal series. But Jordan rebounded from a bout of back spasms to score 44 points and lead the Bulls to a 91-84 victory in Game 1 of the best-of-seven series.

No one else could get the ball to fall into the basket at either end of the United Center court. The NBA's quality control was taking the weekend off.

Because of that, the Knicks had a chance to steal a game. But they went the final 5:15 without a basket, Patrick Ewing missed 2 free throws, and the Bulls pulled away.

"We know we didn't play our best basketball today," Jordan said. "We thought we were fighting off their challenge, but they never gained the full momentum of the game. Each time I looked up and we still had the lead, we knew we were in control."

Scottie Pippen was the only other Bull to reach double figures, scoring 11 points but making only 4 of 15 shots. As a team, the Bulls shot 38 percent, making 33 of 87 attempts.

The Knicks were little better, making 32 of 79 shots and losing the battle at the free-throw line 22-16. Patrick Ewing scored 21 points but made only 9 of 23 shots, while John Starks was 0 of 9 from the field and contributed only 4 free throws.

The numbers tell the story: it was a close game, and the underdog needs to win the close ones.

"We put ourselves in a position to win," said New York coach Jeff Van Gundy. "So much is made of defense, but you have to play good offense on the road. I didn't do a good enough job with the offense."

Van Gundy also didn't get enough rebounds. The Bulls got 18 offensive boards and scored 21 second-chance points. …