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Miracle cure: Ailing MJ scores 38 points, Bulls one victory from title

The Sun-Times’ original story from “The Flu Game,” one of Michael Jordan’s greatest moments.

Michael Jordan collapses into the arms of Scottie Pippen during Game 5 of the 1997 NBA Finals.
Susan Ragan/AP Photo

Originally published June 12, 1997.

SALT LAKE CITY – So much for the Bulls being in trouble, so much for the Utah Jazz being invincible on its home court, so much for the Bulls possibly seeing their dynasty end on a bitter note.

And so much for Michael Jordan being a mere mortal.

Thanks to another legendary performance from Jordan, the Bulls once again are in a commanding position in the NBA Finals after a 90-88 victory Wednesday night in a thrilling Game 5 at the Delta Center.

After snapping Utah’s home winning streak at 23 games, the Bulls returned home with a 3-2 lead and can close out the best-of-seven series in Game 6 Friday night at the United Center and earn their fifth NBA title in the last seven years.

But at times Wednesday, things couldn’t have seemed bleaker for the Bulls.

The day got off to a terrible start when Jordan woke up with a stomach virus. He skipped the team’s shoot-around in the morning and spent much of the day in bed.

Even those who had witnessed countless remarkable efforts from an ailing Jordan doubted he could do it again.

”I’ve played many seasons with Michael, and I’ve never seen him as sick,” Scottie Pippen said. “It was to the point where I didn’t think he was going to be able to put his uniform on.”

Jordan, though, dressed, played 44 minutes and Turn to Page 2

pumped in a game-high 38 points on 13-for-27 shooting. And although his legend doesn’t need any enhancing, Jordan completed the storybook performance by hitting the game-winning basket on a three-pointer with 25 seconds remaining.

Jordan might have lost the NBA’s regular-season most valuable player award to Utah’s Karl Malone, but he’s well on his way to winning the Finals MVP award to go along with another championship.

Jordan was too ill afterward to come into the interview room and spoke only briefly while leaving the arena.

”I feel better (now) that we won,” he said. “I endured it, and it went to a good cause, and we won.

”Now we want to go home and accomplish what we want to accomplish: get one win.”

How was he feeling during the game?

”Very queasy, low on energy,”Jordan said. “Once I got out

there and started sweating, I was out there and I really didn’t want

to sit down. I knew I had to play in spurts, with bursts of energy, and then rest for two minutes and do what I had to do.”

His teammates and coaches couldn’t speak enough of him.

”I know MJ very well, and he didn’t look good,” Ron Harper

said. “But he came out and put on a great, great show.”

”The effort that he came out and gave us was just incredible,” said Pippen, who had 17 points and 10 rebounds. “The leadership, he just kept everybody patient and made big shot after big shot,and he just kept wanting the ball.

”Somehow, he just showed how big of a professional he is by gutting this game out and staying in there.

”He was dehydrated; at times he felt like he was going to pass out. They were feeding him fluids and giving him cold towels and things of that nature, but he just really came out and gave us the performance that we needed, and there’s nothing else to say. He’s the greatest, and he’s the MVP in my eyes.”

No one in the stunned Delta Center crowd would argue with that statement. For much of the game, particularly early on, it seemed as if the Jazz would become the first home team to sweep the middle three games of the 2-3-2 format. But Utah is on the brink of elimination and must win both games at the United Center - where the Bulls have lost only once in the playoffs.

”Obviously, we have our work cut out for us,” said Malone, who had 19 points on 7-for-17 shooting. “We just have to take it one game at a time and worry about Friday.”

As always on the road, the Bulls were hoping to get off to a good start to quiet - somewhat - the raucous crowd. But things couldn’t have gone worse for the Bulls at the start of the game.

After Jeff Hornacek picked up two quick fouls in the first minute, the Bulls came up empty on six of their first seven possessions. On three possessions, they committed turnovers without getting off a shot, and their only basket in the first 4 1/2 minutes was a 15-footer by Jordan.

Pippen (twice) and Ron Harper thought they were fouled heading to the basket, but didn’t get a call. At that point, the Bulls only trailed 4-2 but became passive, and the Jazz took advantage.

Leading 9-8, Utah scored 12 consecutive points for a 21-9 lead with less than three minutes remaining in the quarter. The Jazz had a 29-16 lead at the end of the first as the Bulls were 5-for-15 from the field with five turnovers.

The second quarter didn’t begin much better, and the Bulls were down 36-20. But just when things seemed really bleak, the Bulls suddenly came to life with a 13-2 run to trim the deficit to 38-33 midway through the quarter.

They took the lead briefly and trailed 53-49 at halftime thanks to 33 points (17 from Jordan) in the second.

Utah took a 72-67 lead into the fourth and early on, it seemed as if the Jazz was ready to bust things open. Shandon Anderson, after missing the previous two games because of the death of his father, hit a three-pointer from the right corner with 10:18 to play for a 77-69 lead, Utah’s biggest of the second half.

But the Bulls answered with a run of 10 consecutive points to surge back into the lead. Jordan started things with a 12-footer, then Toni Kukoc (nine points) and Jordan hit three-pointers to tie the score at 77 with nine minutes to play. After a Utah timeout, Jordan capped the run and put the Bulls on top, 79-77, with an 18-footer over Bryon Russell.

Russell, though, hit a three-pointer at the other end for an 80-79 Utah lead, then Hornacek made one of two free-throw attempts for an 81-79 Jazz lead with seven minutes left.

The play was physical and the tempers were getting short. Steve Kerr, increasingly frustrated with John Stockton’s physical play, shoved Stockton after he was taken down as they jockeyed for a rebound. Both players were assessed a technical foul.

Earlier, Brian Williams was given a technical after he and Malone were jawing at one another.

Pippen hit a pair of free throws with 5:57 remaining to tie the score at 81, then neither team scored for nearly three minutes as both defenses turned up the heat.

Fittingly, the drought ended on a freak play. Malone was trying to post up, and the ball was knocked away. He dove on the floor and battled Pippen for the loose ball. Malone gathered it and threw it out to Stockton all alone behind the three-point line. Stockton swished the three-pointer with 3:07 left for an 84-81 Utah lead.

Jordan, though, quickly quieted the crowd with a pull-up runner in the lane to make it 84-83. Malone and Pippen each then made 1-for-2 at the line before Jordan was fouled by Stockton and headed to the line with 46.5 seconds left. He made the first to tie the score at 85, but missed the second.

Kukoc, though, kept the rebound alive, and Jordan grabbed the loose ball. The Bulls set up the offense and worked a play for Pippen posting up Hornacek. Russell doubled down and left Jordan open on the perimeter. Pippen quickly got him the ball, and Jordan drained the three-pointer with 25 seconds left.

Utah pushed the ball upcourt, and Stockton broke down the defense and fed Greg Ostertag for a dunk to make it 88-87 with 15.2 seconds left.

The Bulls quickly inbounded the ball, and the Jazz seemed confused as to what to do. The Bulls worked the ball upcourt with quick passes, and Kukoc fed Longley for a dunk and a 90-87 lead with 6.2 seconds remaining.