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Monday, May 12, 1997 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Good, Bad Bulls Manage 3-1 Lead -- Chicago Bolts To Big Lead, Barely Holds On

Chicago Tribune

ATLANTA - Sometimes during this two-game weekend in Atlanta, the real Bulls showed up.

This would be the Bulls of a year ago, the team that ran roughshod through the league en route to a record-setting 72-10 record and a 15-3 playoff mark on the way to a fourth title in six years.

At other times this weekend, along came that evil twin of a Bulls team, the one that first popped up during a sluggish April.

Both teams showed up yesterday at the Omni. After a strong start, the Bulls were able to hang on despite a horrible finish to hold off the Atlanta Hawks 89-80 and take a commanding 3-1 lead in their best-of-seven series.

"We feel we're definitely in control of the series," Coach Phil Jackson said. "We have an opportunity to close it out on our home court a couple of times. That gives us an advantage, that's for sure."

But the question remains: When will the real Bulls show up for good?

With their convincing 100-80 victory in Game 3 Saturday, the Bulls finally appeared to be moving in the right direction after dismal - by their standards - stretches of basketball over the last few weeks.

After three quarters of Game 4, they had everybody in the Omni - including the Hawks - convinced that two weeks of stagnant and stodgy performances were a thing of the past. The Bulls had led by as many as 24 points in the third quarter, making it look easy. They were up 75-53 entering the fourth quarter.

Jackson was smiling. Michael Jordan, who had 27 points and eight rebounds, was laughing. Scottie Pippen (26 points, eight rebounds) was joking around.

"That always will get you a little fired up," Atlanta Coach Lenny Wilkens said. "I don't think they thought we would have the resolve to come back."

Chicago blew most of the lead, scoring just 14 points in the final quarter, the fewest by an Atlanta opponent this postseason. That was after the Bulls' 33-point first quarter became the most by an Atlanta opponent in this year's playoffs.

When Jordan was called for traveling after being sandwiched between Mookie Blaylock and Eldridge Recasner with a minute to go, Christian Laettner made an easy layup for Atlanta.

The Hawks, who shot 31 percent in the first half and 20 percent in the third quarter, whittled the seemingly insurmountable lead down to 83-80 with 55.4 seconds left.

"It was just a case of forgetting our purpose of making sure the game was done before celebrating," Jordan said. "Next thing you know, they made a run for it."

Jordan hit two free throws on the Bulls' next possession to give them an 85-80 lead with 40.9 seconds left, and the Hawks didn't score again.

Copyright (c) 1997 Seattle Times Company, All Rights Reserved.

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