Holding the keys
Role players could determine Western showdown
Updated: Saturday May 19, 2001 4:00 PM
SAN ANTONIO (AP) -- Kobe, Shaq and the Twin Towers will dominate the headlines in the Western Conference finals.
Yet this long-awaited showdown between defending champion Los Angeles and 1999 champion San Antonio, which begins Saturday in the Alamodome, could well be determined by the "other" guys.
Danny Ferry, Sean Elliott, Antonio Daniels and Terry Porter provide the outside alternative to the inside play of San Antonio's Tim Duncan and David Robinson. Avery Johnson pitches in with penetration from the point.
"Each team has two big-time scorers," Porter said, "and a lot of it does boil down to the other contributors, how the bench plays, along with other factors like free throws, turnovers and fast-break points. Those things are going to fill just as big a role as the key guys are in this series."
Daniels, who moved into the Spurs' starting lineup when Derek Anderson separated a shoulder in Game 1 of the second-round series against Dallas, faces his biggest challenge yet in trying to guard Kobe Bryant.
"It can't do anything except help me grow," said Daniels, who helped hound Michael Finley into a 1-for-17 shooting night in the series clincher against Dallas. "I've been through different things in my life, and this is just another step. It's something I'm really looking forward to doing."
After a season of sputtering and turmoil, the Lakers are on a 15-game winning streak including playoff sweeps of Portland and Sacramento. Spurs coach Gregg Popovich said the return of Fisher has been a big reason for the late surge.
"In their ability to jell as a defensive unit, he's been huge," Popovich said. "To win a championship you've got to have a real solid defense that your whole team believes in and executes night after night. So in that regard, he's special.
"Obviously at the offensive end, he also adds somebody who can knock down that shot when Shaq's getting double-teamed and the ball's reversed, that kind of thing."
Grant, meanwhile, must defend Duncan while Shaquille O'Neal handles Robinson. Because the Lakers don't like to double-team, that's a big chore.
"Another big challenge that I welcome," Grant said. "I've got my work cut out for me. Like I've said, one guy is not going to stop him."
Lakers coach Phil Jackson said O'Neal will get his chance to guard Duncan, too.
"This team is a great defensive ball club," Jackson said of the Spurs. "Our defense is OK, but we don't have the same defensive team they have. Some teams, if you stop them defensively, it hurts their pride. They want to be loose and free in scoring. San Antonio does not have that mindset."
The Spurs also have to make sure that Ron Harper, Fox, Horry or Shaw don't do any serious offensive damage.
"We're going to double down on Shaq some and key on Kobe some," Ferry said, "but we also have to pay attention to the other guys and keep their easy baskets out of it."
San Antonio has some of the NBA's best depth, even without Anderson.
"We've got a good crew that stepped up and filled in admirably," Popovich said, "and they'll have to continue to do that."
The Spurs have nine players who have appeared in all nine playoff games. That's not counting Anderson, of course, who started the first five. Many are sharpshooters. San Antonio has shot 42 percent from 3-point range.
"That's the strength of our team," Daniels said. "When you have a Tim and a Dave inside, when they draw double-teams, 3-point shooting and just perimeter shooting in general is going to be the key."
A year ago, it was one of those role players, Harper, whose performance might have been the difference in the Lakers' tough conference final triumph over Portland.
Harper didn't play for nearly three months because of a knee injury before making two appearances against Sacramento.
Jackson said Harper won't play much against San Antonio because "our chemistry is so good right now."
Harper joked that the coach might have to jostle him awake.
"I'm going to sleep, man, that's all I know," Harper said. "You can ask Phil, but I'm going to sleep."