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Minor Minutes, Major Shots

John Paxson had showered and dressed and was on his way out the
door of the visitors' locker room at the America West Arena shortly
after Game 2 of this year's championship series when a camera crew
caught up with him. Moments later a knot of reporters had crowded
around him, and Paxson stood near the door and patiently answered
questions, his plans for a quick escape having been foiled. It's not
that Paxson was avoiding the press; it's just that he has come to
make a habit out of arriving, getting the job done efficiently and
slipping away quietly.
His Game 2 performance was a perfect example of what coach Phil
Jackson has come to ask of the 6 ft. 2 in. guard. He played only 12
minutes and made two just field goals, but they were crucial minutes
and clutch baskets in the Bulls' 111-108 win. ''That's typical Pax,''
says Michael Jordan. ''He has a knack of hitting that shot that
breaks the other team's back.''
None was more backbreaking than Paxson's three-pointer with 3.9
seconds remaining in Game 6, which helped clinch the Bulls' third
straight title.
In past years Paxson, 32, was more than a spot player. Last season
he was Jordan's partner in the backcourt, averaging 24.6 minutes and
7.0 points. However, off-season surgery on his left knee -- he also
missed 22 games after undergoing arthroscopic surgery on the same
knee in February -- and the emergence of B.J. Armstrong combined to
force Paxson to the bench for most of this season. His playing time
fell to 17.5 minutes per game and his scoring average to 4.2 points,
and he had some difficulty adjusting to life as a substitute.
''Some guys are good at coming off the bench with instant offense,
but I'm not that type; I'm too old and too slow,'' says Paxson with a
smile. ''But I slowly started to get the hang of it.''
Three NBA titles are proof of that. ''One reason we've been able
to do what we've done is that not only do we all believe in
ourselves, but we also have confidence in each other,'' Paxson says.
''We play well together because every player on this team has
complete faith that every other player will do his job well, no
matter how big or small that job is.''