Work in Sports
PORTLAND, Oregon (Ticker) -- For the second time in as many games, Scottie Pippen's postseason experience was too much for the Minnesota Timberwolves.
Pippen scored nine of his 21 points in the fourth quarter as the Portland Trail Blazers held off Minnesota, 86-82, to take a 2-0 lead in their Western Conference first-round series.
Acquired in a blockbuster trade prior to the season to provide the missing ingredient of leadership in Portland's quest for a championship, Pippen -- who won six NBA titles with the Chicago Bulls -- has done just that.
In Game One, he scored a season-high 28 points as the Trail Blazers rallied for a 91-88 win. Tonight, Pippen kept Portland in front in the final period with clutch shots and free throws.
"We have shown some growth just from Sunday's game to today's game," Pippen said.
"Scottie Pippen has stepped up his play in the playoffs," said Minnesota star forward Kevin Garnett. "He's definitely stepped his game up this series and he's been the turning point between winning and losing."
Arvydas Sabonis scored 19 points for the third-seeded Blazers, who avoided an upset and can complete a sweep of the series in Game Three in Minnesota on Sunday.
"It's going to take a lot more than this to win there," Blazers forward Brian Grant said.
Garnett had 23 points and 10 rebounds for the Timberwolves, who are in the playoffs for the fourth straight year but never have won a postseason series. They return home, where they are 1-4 all-time in the playoffs.
"The Minnesota fans feel like they are part of the team," said Garnett. "Even our own governor (Jesse Ventura) gets out of control and he has a Rasheed Wallace attack every once in a while."
Portland led 67-58 entering the fourth quarter, but Minnesota used a 7-0 spurt capped by Sam Mitchell's 3-pointer to close to 69-67 with 8:29 remaining, and it was tight thereafter.
A follow shot by Radoslav Nesterovic kept the Wolves within 73-69 before Pippen drove for a three-point play with 6:27 to go. Garnett slammed home a lob pass but Pippen responded with a 3-pointer that extended the lead to 79-71 with 5:21 left.
"Scottie made good plays again," Blazers coach Mike Dunleavy said. "We got a lot from our veteran leadership. We look forward to him leading the way the rest of the series."
Baskets by Malik Sealy and Nesterovic and two free throws by Terrell Brandon pulled Minnesota within two before Sabonis hit a jumper for an 81-77 edge with 1:45 to play. Pippen answered Garnett's two free throws with two of his own to keep the lead at four with 1:12 left.
"Every time we battled back, something would happen," Garnett said.
Garnett made 1-of-2 free throws and Brandon missed a potential tying 3-pointer that was tipped in by Anthony Peeler with 17 seconds to go. The Wolves fouled Damon Stoudamire, who sank a pair from the line. Sealy missed another potential tying shot and Pippen clinched it with one from the line.
"I thought we did a real good job tonight of when they got down to a late (shot) clock situation, we stayed down and continued to work on defense," Pippen said.
Brandon scored 20 points for the Wolves, who have struggled from 3-point range in the series, making just 3-of-18. They shot 44 percent (31-of-71) overall tonight.
"We were right there," Brandon said. "Sometimes it becomes a possession or two that will kill you or put you over the top."
"In close games I've told our guys you'll have five big plays in the second half," Minnesota coach Flip Saunders said. "In this situation we came up with only four, one short."
Stoudamire scored 13 points and Steve Smith added 12 for the Blazers, who shot 44 percent (31-of-70), including 6-of-12 from behind the arc.
Smith scored 10 points in the third quarter, when Portland took the lead for good. The Blazers opened the period with a 7-0 burst that erased a 41-40 halftime deficit and survived another outburst by Wallace, who was hit with his 40th technical foul of the season and second of the series.
Garnett scored eight points in the first period, including a flying follow dunk to close the quarter and give Minnesota a 24-19 lead.
A jumper by Mitchell widened the lead to 34-24 with 6:14 left in the second quarter before Pippen got hot. He hit four straight shots in a 14-3 run capped by Wallace's jumper that gave Portland a 38-37 edge with 1:53 remaining.
"In the first half, we turned the ball over and they exploited our mistakes," Dunleavy said. "They were making all the hustle plays. Once we righted that, we played much better and played off our intensity."