O'Neal, Bryant propel Lakers past Rockets
Posted: Saturday May 15, 1999 10:20 PM
"We came out and did what we had to do," O'Neal said after scoring 37 points and hauling down 11 rebounds to lead Los Angeles to a 98-88 victory over Houston on Saturday that gave the Lakers the best-of-5 opening round series 3-1. "We kept it simple... We showed a lot of poise. We played smart and consistent basketball."
"In the matchup between Shaq and me, he had the advantage because of his size and power," Houston's Hakeem Olajuwon said. "When you match up against someone that big who can move, there is going to be trouble."
While O'Neal was dominating under the basket, Kobe Bryant added 24 points as the Lakers held off a third-quarter run by the Rockets. Houston got within three points, but any thoughts of a comeback victory were dashed when the Lakers erupted for a 13-4 run -- including six points from O'Neal -- to start the final period.
"We just couldn't get over the hump," Houston coach Rudy Tomjanovich said. "Then the dam broke for them."
"We showed enthusiasm and passion for the game that we lacked in Game 3," Bryant said. "We have a lot of talent and a lot of explosiveness. I think we showed that tonight."
The Rockets, who were led by Charles Barkley's 20 points, were not only beat but beat up.
Olajuwon, neutralized by O'Neal in the series, was hobbled by a strained knee suffered in the second period. Scottie Pippen, who had 14 rebounds in the first half, went down hard on a flagrant foul from J.R. Reid early in the third quarter and missed most of the remainder of the period. He finished with 19 points and 17 rebounds.
"We got beat by a better team," Barkley said.
The Lakers shook off the absence of starting forward Glen Rice, who did not dress because of a sore elbow, and shot 47 percent in the first half while the Rockets were only at 29 percent and 0-for-11 from 3-point range. They led by as many as 17 points early before Houston began chipping away.
Pippen hit Houston's first 3-pointer with 10:40 to go in the third period to make it 51-43.
Then with the Lakers ahead 53-45, Pippen went slashing to the basket and was in mid-air when he was caught across the chest with a forearm from Reid, sending Pippen crashing to the court.
Pippen was prone on the court for several minutes and Reid was called for a flagrant foul.
Pippen sank one of two free throws, cutting the Lakers' advantage to 53-46, then came out of the game a moment later as doctors examined him on the bench.
O'Neal made a basket, then the Rockets went on a 7-1 run to trim the Lakers lead to 56-53 with 4:46 to go.
Fox, who started in place of Rice and finished with nine points, hit a basket for Los Angeles and Sam Mack answered for Houston to make it 60-57 with 2:49 left, but that was a close as the Rockets would get.
The Lakers then outscored Houston 11-7 to end the third period ahead 71-64.
And when Los Angeles began the final period with a 9-0 run, including a 3-pointer from Robert Horry, the Lakers were on their way to the conference semifinals against San Antonio.
Houston, which relies heavily on the 3-point shot, was only 7-of-30 from long range for the game, but three of the baskets came late in the fourth when the outcome already was settled.
The Lakers were only 4-of-13 from behind the arc, but it didn't really matter as O'Neal, camped under the basket, lobbed in short layups or rim-rattling slams.
"I was getting deep and usually when I get deep like that I can score," O'Neal said.
Bryant did most of his damage in the first half, scoring six straight baskets to close out the first period, including a 3-pointer with 1.2 seconds remaining to stake the Lakers to a 25-21 lead. He and O'Neal accounted for all but four of Los Angeles' points in the opening period.
"When we're having fun, that's when we're at our best," Bryant said. "I wanted to come out and be very aggressive and get everybody involved in the game."
Then the Lakers started spreading the scoring around while the Rockets were ice cold, outscoring Houston 18-4 during a nearly six-minute stretch midway through the second period to go ahead by as much as 17 points.
The Rockets were 0-11 from behind the arc in the first half and shot only 29 percent overall, but still managed to crawl back to an 11-point deficit with an 8-2 run at the end of the half.
The Lakers did not want the series to go to a deciding game Monday in Los Angeles. In seven seasons with Tomjanovich as coach, the Rockets have been superb in the pressure cooker of elimination games, going 12-4 when their own fate was on the line and 4-1 when both teams faced elimination.
The Rockets were trying to join a dozen teams who had come back from 2-0 deficits to win a playoff series. Houston was the last to do it, eliminating the Phoenix Suns in the 1995 Western Conference semifinals.
Notes: The Lakers have played in 27 first-round series and have advanced to semifinals 22 times. ... Barkley moved past Robert Parish for 18th place on the NBA's all-time playoff scoring list. ... Since the 1997 playoffs, the Rockets have lost 19 of their last 20 games televised by NBC, including 15 straight. ... The Rockets and Lakers have played each other 23 times in six post-season series. Each team now has won three series.
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