Work in Sports
Blazers send series back to L.A. for Game 7
Posted: Saturday June 03, 2000 02:36 AM
PORTLAND, Ore. (AP) -- In one week, the Portland Trail Blazers have gone from "death's door" to the threshold of one of the NBA's greatest comebacks.
When it counted most, Portland finally beat the Los Angeles Lakers at home Friday night, sending the Western Conference finals to a deciding Game 7.
Steve Smith scored 26 points and Bonzi Wells had a career-playoff high 20, 14 in the fourth quarter, as the Trail Blazers took the lead halfway through the first quarter and never gave it up in a 103-93 victory.
Kobe Bryant scored 33 points for Los Angeles and played the entire game despite a sprained right foot, but it wasn't enough.
The Trail Blazers, the team Los Angeles coach Phil Jackson said was "at death's door" after the Lakers won twice in Portland a week ago, can become the seventh team to come back from a 3-1 deficit to win a series, and the first to do it in the West finals.
"It was a team effort today," Scottie Pippen said. "It was a great game. We knew what we were up against, and we stepped up to the challenge."
Portland's second consecutive victory, and first at home in four tries against Los Angeles, tied the series 3-3. Indiana's opponent in the NBA Finals will be determined in a showdown Sunday in Los Angeles, where the Blazers have won two in a row.
"We have to lay it all down," Shaquille O'Neal said. "The fans have to be ready, the city has to be ready and the players have to be ready."
Jackson said he knew it would be difficult to beat Portland three consecutive times in the Rose Garden, and his players understand how tough this series is.
"They're not happy with their performance, that's for sure," Jackson said, "but they understand this is a war. We lost a battle tonight, but the war's not over."
O'Neal, averaging 29.2 points in the playoffs, had 17 points and 11 rebounds but was only 7-for-17 from the field and 3-for-10 at the line.
"I thought they played extremely well on Shaquille," Jackson said. "A lot of his touches were crowded. It was tough for us to get spacing on the floor to get it in to him. But they were giving us other things. We had the types of shots we wanted."
The intensity has built as the Blazers tightened the series.
"We've noticed as the games went on they started to turn away from playing the game and started to do other activities away from the game," Pippen said, "taking cheap shots at guys to try to start altercations. I'm just telling my guys to stay focused, play hard and try to walk away from it.
"Rick Fox said to me, 'It's going to be on in L.A.' I'm looking forward to it."
In the third quarter, O'Neal missed his first six shots and was called for a flagrant foul for flattening Pippen on a drive to the basket.
After lying on the floor for several minutes, Pippen got to his feet and made one of two free throws to put Portland ahead 60-49 with 5:21 to play in the quarter.
"He hit me pretty hard," Pippen said. "It was obvious what he was trying to do. He had no intention of going to the ball, so I'll see if he gets fined $10,000."
Pippen was fined $10,000 for an elbow to the back of John Salley's head late in Game 4.
Pippen scored a series-low nine points and was just 1-for-6 from the field, but the deep, talented Blazers had more than enough offense elsewhere with five players in double figures. Rasheed Wallace scored 18, Damon Stoudamire 14, 10 in the first half, and Arvydas Sabonis had 10 points and 11 rebounds.
"We have so many weapons, coming off the bench and as starters, they have to key on five guys," Wells said, "not two like the other team."
Glen Rice and Brian Shaw scored 12 apiece for Los Angeles.
The Blazers clinched the victory by going 15-for-16 at the foul line in the fourth quarter.
"They were playing desperate ball," O'Neal said. "But we knew it was going to be hard to come up here and win three games."
O'Neal was 1-for-1 from the field and 2-for-2 at the line in the fourth quarter. Bryant was 4-for-6 on 3-pointers in the fourth quarter and 6-for-9 for the game.
The Blazers took an 83-68 lead on Wells' two free throws with 6:56 to go, but Los Angeles mounted one last challenge.
Brian Shaw hit a 3-pointer and O'Neal made two free throws, after going 1-for-8 up until then, to cut it to 83-75 with 5:31 to play.
Then coach Mike Dunleavy put Smith back into the game. Bryant committed his fifth foul on Pippen's drive to the basket, and the two free throws put Portland ahead 86-75, then Smith sank a 3-pointer from the corner to a deafening roar and the Blazers were up 89-75 with 4:49 to go.
Bryant's 3-point barrage cut it to eight on several occasions, but Portland responded with free throws to hold off any late threat.
"The defining moment was late in the game when we kept making pushes and they kept getting to the line and knocking down free throws," Bryant said.
Even though Pippen was scoreless in the first half and didn't take a shot until 34 seconds before the break, the Blazers led by as many as 15 in the second quarter and were up 49-39 at the half. Smith and Stoudamire had 12 points apiece.
O'Neal had eight tough-to-get points in the first half but was 0-for-6 at the foul line.
Portland, which has shot out to early leads in every game of the series, used a 16-2 burst to take a 24-13 lead on Sabonis' 20-footer with 1:29 to play in the first quarter.
Notes: One of the referees was Ron Garretson, who threw Wallace out of Game 2. He gave Wallace the second technical for staring at him. Although Garretson took a lot of heckling from the fans, there were no exchanges between him and Wallace ... Among those in the crowd: Tiger Woods, Bill Gates, Steven Speilberg and Clyde Drexler, who got a huge ovation when shown on the giant video screen. ... Sabonis, in foul trouble virtually throughout the series in his matchup with O'Neal, didn't have a foul in 21 minutes on the court in the first half. ... The last team to come back from a 3-1 deficit was Miami against New York in the 1997 Eastern Conference semifinals. ... Fox and Dunleavy each drew a technical foul for a heated exchange in the final minutes.