Posted by Kelly Dwyer
Seattle at Chicago, 1-13-98.

Let's play catch-up. Two years removed from a Finals appearance in 1996, the Seattle SuperSonics have the best record in the NBA, the best road record, and the newly-acquired Vin Baker has fit in with nary a problem to be found. Seattle has already knocked off the Bulls in 1997-98, back in November (on a game-winning jumper from Baker) during a desultory Chicago road trip that saw Scottie Pippen demand a trade and the defending champs limp back into Chicago with a 10 and 7 record.

For some reason, even though the Bulls lost to Indiana three nights later, the SuperSonics loss was the emotional low point of the season - Pippen's trade demand, Michael Jordan's faulty wrist, and Toni Kukoc's throbbing plantar fascia were making life tough; and the idea that the SuperSonics had added a power forward who could nearly do all the things Shawn Kemp could (19 and 8) without the extra baggage (the turnovers, the four fouls by halftime), was a little scary. Pretty scary. I'm scared right now. I'm going to go turn some lights on.

By tonight's game, though, things were picking up for Chicago. Pippen had put aside his embarrassing trade demand and returned to action after missing the first two months of the season with a soft tissue injury in his left foot, and the Bulls entered the home tilt with the SuperSonics boasting a 25 and 11 record (and the best home record in the NBA), compared with Seattle's 29 and 7 mark.

(Yes, I call them the "SuperSonics." I will always call them the "SuperSonics")

It's a TNT game, Verne Lundquist and Doc Rivers have the call, and we've already seen the obligatory shot of Chicago-style pizza. Because that's all we eat, apparently.

Jim McIlvaine at center for Seattle, with Baker and Detlef Schrempf at the forwards, Hersey Hawkins and Gary Payton at the guard positions. The Bulls feature Luc Longley at centre (his position, his spelling), Dennis Rodman, Pippen, Jordan, and the venerable Ron Harper. Michael Jordan has the flu, so he's probably due for 50.

1st Quarter, 11:52: Longley is guarding Baker, who immediately receives a clear-out, goes into a spin move, and Luc looks a little helpless. Alas, the banker rims out. Rivers: "If Baker looks like that all night, he's going to have a huge game." Doc may be the same man who started Pat Burke and Britton Johnsen, but he's got a point.

1Q, 11:10: Pippen whiffs on a lay-up, he has absolutely no lift. Thankfully for Chicago, Jordan doesn't need much lift to swish a flat-footed lay-in.

1Q, 9:54: Doc: "Both teams are feeling each other out." KD: "Both teams look old, cranky, and cold."

1Q, 7:53: Jim McIlvaine defends Luc Longley, and nobody else, well. Game is tied at 9.

1Q, 7:02: Schrempf and McIlvaine go up for a rebound, Vin Baker yells, "same! Same!" Detlef gently reminds his new teammate, "no, remember Vinnie, we're not the same. He bad, me good. Goatee, bad. German guy, good."

1Q, 5:00: Both teams are still "feeling each other out," making Dennis Rodman (six rebounds in seven minutes) lots of money. Dale Ellis, and his box-top fade, have checked in.

1Q, 3:12: The NBA ad on press row would like to remind you that "January is NBA 2Ball Month." Just in case you wanted to start planning now.

1Q, 1:58: David Wingate has checked in, but his wispy, little mustache is still taking off his warm-ups. Both will finish this quarter with three fouls.

30 to 29, SuperSonics up a point, after one quarter. 59 points combined, yikes. Consider that it took both teams an entire game plus overtime to combine for 176 points a year before. Of course, Craig Ehlo was involved in that one. Oh, sure, he didn't actually play ... but he was involved. Trust me.

2Q, 11:39: A three-second violation on Chicago after Toni Kukoc refused to shoot the ball. Even with three fouls, David Wingate is still on the floor. Mainly because he's David Wingate.

2Q, 11:06: Dennis Rodman is good at rebounding.

2Q, 10:30: Aaron Williams checks in for Seattle. I Used to love that guy's game. Remember Game 3 of the 2002 Eastern Conference Finals? The one where the Celtics came from 21 down in the fourth quarter to beat the Nets? Aaron Williams had something like 14 points in that quarter for New Jersey. He was the only one to show up.

2Q, 9:54: Michael Jordan fouls David Wingate, and something seems off. That's not supposed to happen. Replay is shown, and sure enough, Michael Jordan did not foul David Wingate.

2Q, 5:13: Jordan is going off. He's hit five straight, against good defense. Seattle is forcing him to spin to his right with the fadeaway jumpers (a tougher shot that he has to fling across his body), and they're still going in.

2Q, 5:02: Quietly, Baker has missed three of his first four free throw attempts. Fouled again away from the ball, he lines up for his fifth attempt already mumbling to himself. The first try isn't even close, front iron and to the left. Baker reacts by clapping his hands and yelling at himself. As if dared that he couldn't hit the same spot again, Baker nearly hits the underside of the rim, left side, for his second attempt. 1 of 6 from the line. Something's up.

2Q, 4:44: On a fast-break, both Jordan (right hand) and Pippen (left hand) pin Gary Payton's lay-up attempt to the glass. Spectacular block.

2Q, 2:45: Doc Rivers, on Jordan: "You have to cut his heart out, but you can't." Because that would be murder.

2Q, 2:40: Vin Baker misses two more from the line. He doesn't want to be there, he doesn't want the attention, and he's gone from grimacing and yelling at himself to quietly throwing up bricks and not making eye contact with anyone. The SuperSonics have to take a 20-second injury timeout for Payton directly after his misses, and Baker's not looking at anyone in the Seattle huddle.

2Q, 2:20: The funny thing about Baker is, before he even went to the line, he was having a terrific game. Blocks, steals, rebounds (!), while scoring from the perimeter or down low. Something's switched off, by this time. Vin half-heartedly posts up Jason Caffey, goes in for a fadeaway (not turnaround) jumper over a player three or four inches shorter than him, and Caffey stuffs him. Jason then goes coast-to-coast for the dunk.

2Q, 1:26: Baker's starting to force shots, but he's not putting anything on them. A five-foot turnaround jumper, over Caffey, hits the front of the rim.

2Q, 15.9: Baker has single coverage, from Caffey, not six feet away from the rim on the right block. The entire right side is cleared out for him. And yet, before going into a move, he chucks the ball cross-court to Payton as if Bill Russell, Tim Duncan, and Scottie Pippen were bearing down on him. Payton misses a three-pointer. Bulls plus ten to end the half, even as Jordan and Rodman both have three fouls.

3Q, 11:35: George Karl knows what's up. First possession of the half, with Luc Longley on Baker, go to the big guy. Baker abuses Longley on his way to a lay-in.

3Q, 10:20: Dennis Rodman is good at flopping. Three fouls on Baker.

3Q, 9:54: A Longley dunk makes it a 15-point Bulls lead. Baker has turned it over on consecutive possessions.

3Q, 7:04: Baker is dominating Longley. 4-for-4 in the quarter. A ticker reveals that the Denver Nuggets are 2 and 31 thus far in 1997-98. Allan Bristow was awesome.

3Q, 6:30: Chicago's ball movement is brilliant. The Bulls will finish the game with 26 assists, twice as many as Seattle, and Chicago
should have finished with a half-dozen more. More alley-oops in this game than I remember the Bulls having in a month up to January 13th.

3Q, 5:02: George Karl had a beard this season. It's one of those beards that doesn't really work, the hair grows and covers your face, but it essentially looks like a bag of hair was just dropped on your skin. I should know, I "grew" one last winter. It looked HORRIBLE. I loved it. Everyone leaves you alone.

3Q, 3:30: Karl's been coaching against the Triangle offense for how long, now? When is he going to learn that overloading the strong side is certain death? Certain death, I say! Chicago is just using Seattle's pressure against itself. All sorts of back-door plays, guard-around screens, and alley-oops. Bulls are up 15. Not surprisingly, after this game, Karl will be 1 and 8 as Seattle coach against the Bulls in Chicago; and he entered Cook County with some pretty good teams.

3Q, 2:00: Both teams are frustrated by the ticky-tack fouls. Shockingly, Bennett Salvatore is calling this game.

3Q, 1:02: Dale Ellis pushes Scott Burrell into Sam Perkins, skips backwards, hits a trey. Still, that's 35 points for the SuperSonics in nearly two quarters, following a 30-point first quarter.

4Q, 10:52: Longley tries to hit a cutting Kukoc. Verne Lundquist's call: "Longley tries the no-Luc pass." You know, I think I respect Verne a little more after that one. Seriously.

4Q, 8:30: Baker just fouled Longley out, Bulls are still up 16.

4Q, 7:57: One Karl gambit has worked - David Wingate has yet to pick up his fourth foul.

4Q, 7:50: Dale Ellis just hit a flat-footed runner (if such a thing is possible) that only Marty Glickman would have a chance at accurately describing.

4Q, 7:11: Jason Caffey has the right idea, and fouls Vin Baker, who hits one of two. Next Seattle possession, Baker has a 7-foot righty hook, but passes off to Payton again, who isn't even watching the ball (something about his power forward having a 7-foot righty hook).

4Q: 3:11: The Bulls are just sort of hanging on, Seattle's more or less resigned to its fate - mainly because any time the SuperSonics trimmed the lead to nine or so, Chicago would respond with a basket or four. Phil Jackson empties the bench with about two minutes to go.

Final tally, Chicago 101, Seattle 91. Seattle still won 25 out of 36 games after this, but the bloom appeared to be off the rose. And as good as Baker's stat line sounded (21 points, seven boards, three steals, two blocks, two assists), self-doubt had been established. This batch of insecurity appeared not be present some two days before, in a nationally-televised loss to the Knicks.

In the postseason, Seattle was nearly upset by a Minnesota Timberwolves team playing without Tom Gugliotta, winning in five tough games, and fell in five games to the Los Angeles Lakers in the second round. Cruelly, Karl forced Baker to guard Shaquille O'Neal during the Conference semis, and O'Neal dominated the Seattle forward on both ends. The NBA locked out its players after that season, Karl was fired, Baker showed up to camp 50 pounds overweight when the labor dispute was settled, and we're pretty well aware of how this story ends.

I appreciate your patience on this breakdown; I still have a few more games to get through, so bear with me.