Hawks' destiny dissolves as Bulls escape, 89-88


Dennis Rodman offers an amusing response to Christian Laettner's trash talk.
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Rodman also has a complaint for Dikembe Mutombo.
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ESPN's Fred Carter says the Bulls won with defense.
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ESPN's Fred Carter says Lenny Wilkens can't escape Michael Jordan.
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Box score | Game recap | Game Flow

ATLANTA -- On a night when Michael Jordan didn't hit the clutch basket, when a huge home win at the buzzer seemed all but predestined, and when Christian Laettner seemed poised to repeat his NCAA Regional heroics, the Atlanta Hawks came up short -- and so did their bid to set a new franchise record for consecutive home wins.

Laettner missed a three-pointer with two seconds left as the Chicago Bulls halted Atlanta's 20-game home winning streak with an 89-88 victory.

The Hawks fell two wins shy of their record, despite 19 points and 19 rebounds from Dikembe Mutombo.

The Bulls improved to 15-2 within the Central Division and were able to avenge a 108-103 loss at Atlanta the day after Christmas. Chicago beat the Hawks for the 10th time in the last 11 meetings.

Dennis Rodman, who played one game after an 11-game suspension for kicking a cameraman, was not in the starting lineup. Toni Kukoc replaced him and finished with 21 points. Rodman had two points and 12 rebounds, but fouled out for just the third time in six seasons with 36 seconds left.

"I have to be the only guy in the league with double-fouls every game," said Rodman. "That was just ridiculous. This game (stunk). I'm glad all the referees were here to control the game. That's why it's in the 80s. ... There ain't no rivalry (with Atlanta). They want to think there's a rivalry."

After a timeout, Laettner hit the rim on a long three-pointer and the Bulls held on, disappointing the Hawks's ninth sellout crowd of the season and the seventh sellout in the last 12 games. Atlanta had five sellouts last season.

"I got a good look up, I got a good shot up," Laettner said. "I was deep out there, I just couldn't hit it. I knew it was off, but it was close."

Bulls coach Phil Jackson said the shot by Laettner was expected.

"They knew basically that the anticipation was (Steve) Smith or Laettner in that situation," Jackson said of his defense.

Jackson revealed that Rodman's absence from the starting lineup had to do with matchups.

"We made a little change in our starting lineup, with Toni coming out and playing Laettner and that kind of balanced out through the course of the game," Jackson said. "I thought we accomplished what we wanted to in this game with the matchups."

Jordan missed a 10-footer with nine seconds left, leaving Chicago with an 89-88 lead. Jordan complained that he was fouled on the play, but did not receive a technical foul.

"It was obvious," Jordan said of Steve Smith's alleged foul. "He was trying to give me the foul. He even said that. They didn't call it.

"Very physical game," Jordan continued. "We had to play hard with the defense down the stretch. I think our defense moved up the pressure and won the game. Offensively, we turned the ball over a few times. Both teams wanted it very bad. They're a great team; we respect them."

With 31 seconds left, Smith hit a two-footer that got the Hawks within 89-88. Jordan made two of three free throws 21 seconds earlier after he was fouled while shooting a three-pointer.

Jon Barry's breakaway layup got Atlanta within 87-86 with 1:11 remaining. Laettner's five-footer exactly one minute earlier made it 87-84. Jordan's 15-footer with 2:34 remaining stretched Chicago's lead to 87-82.

Scottie Pippen added 13 points and 11 rebounds for the Bulls, who held a 32-26 lead after one quarter and maintained a 52-49 lead at halftime.

"That was a game that we anticipated would be a close, tight game and it was exactly what we thought it would be," Jackson said. "We had a breakdown in the third quarter. Their defense stepped up and we gave up easy baskets that put them back in the game. It was a defensive battle. It was not pretty to watch from a coach's perspective."

Smith and Laettner each had 21 points for Atlanta, which got within 73-72 after three periods.

"I would say we showed we're very capable out there. We just didn't have the good luck," Mutombo said.

"It was very physical. It was a playoff atmosphere," said Smith. "We stepped up to the challenge, but we were supposed to have won the game."

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