Work in Sports
O'Neal, Bryant sink Suns
Posted: Saturday May 13, 2000 03:24 AM
PHOENIX (AP) - Take Shaquille O'Neal and Kobe Bryant, then throw in 51 free throws, and the Los Angeles Lakers are just about impossible to beat.
That's how the bewildered Phoenix Suns felt after they came close again but lost to the Lakers 105-99 Friday night. Los Angeles is one victory away from a four-game sweep in the Western Conference semifinals.
Penny Hardaway, who scored 31 in the loss, wouldn't say the officials favored the Lakers, but he was frustrated.
"That team is already really good," he said. "It seemed like every time we'd go down and work hard at the offensive end, they'd go to the foul line. They're a great team, but it's kind of demoralizing when you foul every time down. That's unbelievable, man."
O'Neal scored 11 of his 37 points in the fourth quarter and grabbed 17 rebounds as the Lakers won their first road game of the playoffs to take a 3-0 lead in the best-of-seven series.
"Shaq hit some incredible shots," Phoenix coach Scott Skiles said.
Los Angeles, which won Game 2 Thursday 97-96 on Bryant's tough 15-footer with 2.6 seconds to go, can complete its first playoff sweep since 1991 and first sweep of a seven-game series since 1989 with a victory on Sunday.
"Our goal was to just come in here and win one," O'Neal said. "We got the first one. Now our goal will be to close it out on Sunday."
Hardaway, averaging 26 points in the first two games of the series, made 11 of 15 shots, but missed a 3-pointer with 46 seconds to go and the Suns down 100-97. Cliff Robinson scored 23, but only two after leaving to have his sprained right ankle taped late in the third quarter.
Jason Kidd had 12 assists, but was only 1-for-9 from the field for four points.
The Lakers, who lost both games in Sacramento in the first round of the playoffs, outscored the Suns 11-4 over the last 2:33, including 9-for-12 on free throws. Bryant scored 25 on 8-for-20 shooting and Robert Horry had 15 off the bench.
O'Neal's stuff, the Lakers' last field goal, put Los Angeles up for good 96-95 with 2:33 to go. Bryant's two free throws with 1:34 remaining made it 98-95, but Hardaway made two free throws with 1:15 remaining to cut it to 98-97.
On the Lakers' next possession, Rice broke free to the basket and took a pass from Brian Shaw. Rice was fouled by Luc Longley and sank both free throws. After Hardaway missed the 3-pointer, Shaw sank two free throws to make it 102-97 with 26.4 seconds remaining.
"We just had a little extra down there in the fourth quarter to come back and win the ball game," Lakers coach Phil Jackson said. "We shot the ball relatively well from the 3-point line and, of course, free throws were the story to win this ball game."
The Lakers were 35-for-51 from the line, 14-for-23 in the fourth quarter. The Suns were 25-for-34.
O'Neal was 9-for-15 from the foul line, 8-for-11 in the first half, when Skiles put Oliver Miller in for the sole purpose of sending Shaq to the line.
"For me, it's a concentration thing," O'Neal said. "I tried to concentrate a little bit harder today and I hit them when I needed to hit them. I'll probably never shoot 78 percent."
Rodney Rogers, winner of the NBA's Sixth Man Award who struggled in the first two games of the series, scored 15, but still had trouble from long range and was only 5-for-12 from the field.
The 6-foot-7 Rogers even guarded O'Neal for a stretch in the second half and held his own. But that matchup helped lead to Rogers' fouling out in the game's final minutes.
"We've had two games that could have gone either way," Kidd said, "and we find ourselves behind the 8-ball. We've just got to find our shovels and dig ourselves out of this ditch."
Down 52-50 at the half, the Suns used an 11-0 run to go up 61-54 on Robinson's 3-pointer with 8:09 left in the period.
Luc Longley, who scored eight of his 12 points in the third quarter, sandwiched a tip-in between two 18-footers as the Suns built a 67-59 lead with 5:51 to go. But Longley drew his fourth foul 14 seconds later and went to the bench.
O'Neal had a stuff and Kobe Bryant sank a 17-footer in a 7-0 Lakers spurt that tied it at 72 with 2:18 to go in the third, and the Suns held a 76-75 lead going into the final quarter.
The teams battled back and forth through most of the fourth, with the Suns taking their last lead 95-94 on Shawn Marion's 14-foot baseline jumper with 2:48 to play.
"We had a meltdown towards the end and we did some uncharacteristic things that hurt us a little bit," Skiles said. "We just lost our composure. It's a learning process right now."
The Suns shot out to a 19-7 lead with the big crowd behind them, but the Lakers scored 34 points in the second quarter, including two 3-pointers apiece by Horry and Rick Fox, to lead 52-50 at the half.
Notes: The Lakers missed 10 consecutive shots in the first quarter. ... Referee Jim Clark whistled Skiles for a technical with 2:22 left in the first quarter. ... Phoenix shot 63 percent in the first quarter and 37 percent in the second. ... Robinson had a rough game, leaving with an injured left index finger with 4:47 left in the first half, then returning only to sprain his ankle in the third quarter. ... The Suns' Kevin Johnson played just six minutes, none in the second half.