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1999 NBA Playoffs

Denied!

Shaq's block on Mobley preserves Lakers' win

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Posted: Sunday May 09, 1999 11:18 PM

  Shaq came up big down the stretch, finishing with 27 points, 11 rebounds and four blocks. AP

INGLEWOOD, Calif. (AP) -- Just a few short weeks ago, critics everywhere were ripping the shoddy defense being played by Shaquille O'Neal and the Los Angeles Lakers.

And with good reason -- the Lakers finished the season ranked 25th in the NBA in scoring defense, ahead of only four teams.

These days, though, the Lakers are pointing to defense as their No. 1 strength. And it showed Sunday.

Two clutch defensive plays -- a block by O'Neal and a pounce by Derek Fisher -- lifted the Lakers to a 101-100 victory over the Houston Rockets to open the playoffs.

O'Neal blocked rookie Cuttino Mobley's layup attempt from behind at the final buzzer, and Fisher had 20 points, six assists, three steals and one crucial recovery of a loose ball that set up the winning points.

"When it comes down to it in the playoffs, you get the wins at the defensive end," said Lakers forward Glen Rice, who scored a game-high 29 points.

That's exactly what happened in Sunday's pulsating game.

Hakeem Olajuwon's three-point play with 1:03 remaining gave the Rockets a 100-98 lead, and O'Neal cut the advantage in half by making a foul shot with 28.4 seconds left.

The Rockets were running the shot clock down when Scottie Pippen lost his footing and control of the ball while guarded by Kobe Bryant. Fisher came racing in, pounced on the ball and called timeout with 7.6 seconds to play.

"I saw [Pippen] stumble and then I saw the ball slip off of the back of his leg," Fisher said of his big play. "I couldn't believe that I could get there and actually control it and call timeout, but it worked out like that."

Bryant was then fouled by Sam Mack as he drove toward the basket and made two free throws with 5.3 seconds left to give the Lakers a 101-100 lead.

"I thought it should have been a no-call, I didn't think there was contact," Houston coach Rudy Tomjanovich said.

Said Pippen: "I thought [Bryant] fell and just continued to roll into Sam. He fell much more than he was fouled, but the game shouldn't have come down to the officials making a decision. That's how we felt like it came down, though, they made the decisions in the last couple of minutes that decided the game."

The Rockets had one final try, but came up empty when Mobley's driving layup was swatted out of bounds by O'Neal as time ran out.

"I thought they would be looking for either Charles [Barkley] or Hakeem [Olajuwon]," O'Neal said. "I thought [Mobley] was going to shoot the jumper, but he went to the hole. So I just came from behind and blocked it.

"I'll admit I've been matadorish on defense this year because sometimes they let you play, sometimes they don't let you play. It's important for me to stay in the game, but, I mean, I know how to play defense."

O'Neal scored nine of his 27 points in the fourth quarter, and also had 11 rebounds and four blocked shots. Bryant finished with 17 points, five rebounds and five assists.

Barkley scored 12 of his 25 points in the final period and also had 10 rebounds. Olajuwon, hampered by foul problems, had 22 points and eight rebounds, and Pippen had 14 points, 10 rebounds and eight assists.

Game 2 in the first-round best-of-5 series is Tuesday night at the Forum, with the third game Thursday night at Houston.

Mack scored 11 of his 13 points in the fourth quarter as the Rockets battled back from a 77-70 deficit.

But in the end, it wasn't enough.

Barkley scored six points in a little over two minutes as the Rockets took a 97-94 lead.

Two foul shots by Bryant with 1:31 to go made it 97-96, and Fisher made two more free throws 14 seconds later after stealing the ball from Mobley.

Just before the Lakers' final possession, Barkley urged the sellout crowd of 17,505 at the Forum to make more noise, and he urged them on again before Houston's final possession.

Notes: The Lakers outscored the Rockets 37-19 in the second quarter for a 52-41 halftime lead -- largest lead in the game for either team. ... The Rockets have lost 14 straight games shown by NBC since beating the Lakers 90-88 on Feb. 15, 1998. ... The Rockets and Lakers are meeting in the playoffs for the sixth time. The Rockets won three of the previous five series, most recently in the first round of the 1996 playoffs when they eliminated the Lakers in four games. ... The Lakers have failed to qualify for the playoffs just once since 1976, while the Rockets are in for the 14th time in the last 15 years. ... The Lakers have won six championships since moving to Los Angeles from Minneapolis before the 1960-61 season, but none since 1988. The Rockets have won two in their history -- in 1994 and 1995, making them one of only five teams to win back-to-back titles. The Lakers also accomplished that feat in 1987 and 1988. ... Houston's Othella Harrington was poked in the left eye late in the first quarter and didn't return.

 
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The Lakers were too tough down the stretch for the Rockets to handle.
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