Work in Sports
No Rose Garden
O'Neal, Bryant lead Laker comeback
Posted: Saturday May 27, 2000 09:46 AM
PORTLAND, Ore. (AP) -- Phil Jackson coached Chicago to championships. Scottie Pippen was a star on those teams. Then there was Ron Harper, a Bulls role player who turned hero for the Los Angeles Lakers in Game 3 of the Western Conference finals.
Harper's 18-foot baseline jumper with 29.9 seconds to play, on a pass from Kobe Bryant, gave Los Angeles the lead for good Friday night as the Lakers pulled out a 93-91 victory over Portland to regain command of the Western Conference finals.
"It felt great," Harper said. "It was a nice, open shot. I told the guys in the huddle that I'd been wide open the whole ball game. I found me a slot and he made a nice pass and it was two. Ball game!"
Bryant blocked Arvydas Sabonis' driving shot just before the buzzer as the Lakers took a 2-1 lead in the best-of-seven series. Game 4 is Sunday in Portland.
Shaquille O'Neal scored 18 of his 26 points in the second half and grabbed 12 rebounds, and Bryant scored 18 of his 25 in the first half for the Lakers in the first close game of the series. Both played the entire game.
But it was the last two of Harper's 12 points that were the biggest.
"That was a reward for Ron, especially when they've been leaving him open this series," said Jackson, who has the Lakers two victories away from the NBA Finals in his first season as their coach.
Bryant said he went away from the triangle offense and just drove to the basket with the intention of getting the ball to Harper.
"We knew he was going to be open," Bryant said. "He was hiding out on that baseline. He was there, and hit the big shot."
With O'Neal and Bryant on the court, somebody is always left open for the Lakers.
"People don't realize Ron Harper has played at another level in this league," Portland's Steve Smith said. "He's been an all-star and a 20-point scorer. He has just changed his role on this team. With a team like the Lakers, you've got to let someone be open. Some nights we might choose Harp, some nights we might choose someone else."
It was the wrong choice Friday.
Pippen, who scored eight of his 12 in the final 4:03, scored inside to tie it at 91 with 1:14 to play.
Each team had a turnover before Harper's open jumper put the Lakers ahead. Going for the tying basket, Wallace lost the ball and the Lakers took it downcourt, but Wallace stole Bryant's pass to give Portland one last shot.
Sabonis complained that he was fouled on his final drive, but replays showed a clean block.
"Sabas took the ball to the hole, and we didn't get the call," Pippen said. "The officials aren't going to call that. The better percentage was for him to shoot the ball."
Wallace, who kept playing despite turning his left ankle in the third quarter, scored 19 points on 9-of-11 shooting for Portland. Damon Stoudamire also had 19 after going scoreless in Game 2 for the Blazers, who lost at home for the first time in six playoff games.
Smith scored 14 and Sabonis had 11.
"We found a way to get back in the series by reclaiming the homecourt advantage," Jackson said. "Now the pressure's on them in Sunday's ball game to try to maintain because if we put another notch in our belt on Sunday, they're really at death's door, and they know it."
Blown out at home by 29 points in Game 2 Monday night, the Lakers fell behind 15-2 early Friday, were down by as many as 14 in the second quarter and trailed 55-45 in the half.
But Los Angeles, 2-3 on the road in the playoffs, caught the Blazers with a 20-6 run in the third quarter, then took control with a 9-0 spurt in the fourth.
Through the first two quarters, O'Neal was largely ineffective against Portland's double- and triple-team defense. Sabonis outscored him 9-8 in the first half.
But the MVP took over with a 13-point third quarter.
"The coaching staff and the players kind of got on me and said I wasn't working hard enough for the shot," O'Neal said. "The first half I felt they were coming really, really fast and I found it not to our advantage for me to take a lot of shots over two and three guys, so I was just trying to pass it out.
"But they told me to be more aggressive and score, so I was looking to score a little bit more."
O'Neal scored 10 in a 20-6 run that gave Los Angeles its first lead of the game, at 69-67 on Harper's two free throws with 1:44 left in the quarter. Portland briefly regained the lead on baskets by Wallace and Stoudamire.
But O'Neal, purposely fouled with 15.6 seconds left in the third as part of Portland coach Mike Dunleavy's 'Hack-a-Shaq' philosophy, made both free throws to put Los Angeles up 72-71 going into the final quarter.
Down 87-81, the Blazers fought back. Pippen sank one of two free throws, stole the ball from Rick Fox and made a 3-pointer to cut it to 87-85 with 3:35 to go.
Bryant's slick move in the key made it 89-85, then Pippen scored again to cut it to 89-87. Glen Rice, who scored just eight points, made two free throws to boost the lead to 91-87.
Sabonis made two free throws with 1:56 to go to cut the lead to 91-89, then Pippen tied it.
"We played a lot of great minutes but ultimately it came down to turnovers we made," Dunleavy said. "We had 15 turnovers, and it turned into 25 points. That was the biggest difference in the ball game."
Portland shot 68 percent in the first quarter and 56 percent in the first half, when its depth and balance was on full display.
Bryant kept the Lakers in the game with 14 points in the first quarter, but Stacey Augmon came off the bench to shut Bryant down in the second period. Augmon also scored eight points in the quarter, including an inside basket that gave the Blazers their biggest lead of the half, 47-33 with 5:13 to go.
The two baskets Bryant made in the second quarter came after Augmon left the game.
Notes: The Lakers outrebounded Portland 10-2 in the fourth quarter. ... For the first time in the series, Bryant opened the game guarding Pippen. ... Pippen threw the ball off Rick Fox and Fox shoved Pippen, leading to technicals against both, with 7:23 left in the game. ... O'Neal was scoreless in the first quarter and took only one shot. ... For once, Blazers owner Paul Allen wasn't the richest man in the building. Sitting next to him was fellow Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates.