Work in Sports
PORTLAND, Oregon (Ticker) -- In search of his seventh NBA championship ring, Scottie Pippen found a familiar victim.
Pippen made the go-ahead 3-pointer over a tortured Bryon Russell with 7.3 seconds to play, lifting the Portland Trail Blazers into the Western Conference finals for the second straight year with an 81-79 victory over the Utah Jazz.
Playing their worst game of the postseason, the Trail Blazers scrambled to score the final six points and eliminated the aging Jazz in five games. Portland bounced Utah from the conference semifinals in six games last year.
Pippen teamed with Michael Jordan to win six championships with the Chicago Bulls in the 1990s and joined Portland this season.
Although he is among the NBA's 50 Greatest Players, he usually has performed in a secondary role -- until tonight.
"I want to think that I am (a leader)," Pippen said. "I think that the experience I have had in the past and what I have been able to do will help lead this team but I don't want to shoulder the entire load."
"He has been a big playmaker and shot-maker all year long," Blazers coach Mike Dunleavy said. "You have got to have guys who want to take the shot and to make the shot."
The versatile 6-7 forward had 23 points, nine rebounds and eight assists, carrying his struggling team early and providing the leadership and big plays as he has throughout the playoffs. He went down hard midway through the final period but returned just over a minute later.
With the Blazers trailing 79-77, Pippen launched a 3-pointer from the left wing over a sagging Russell to give Portland the lead. It was Russell defending when Jordan hit the jumper that gave the Bulls the 1998 championship over the Jazz.
"I was looking to go inside to Rasheed (Wallace) to get something quick but they played that pretty well," Pippen said.
"Then Russell jumped back into the passing lane and I just looked for the shot. I knew we had to get a shot off because it was around seven seconds at that time."
"Pippen was deep and I didn't think he would take the shot," Russell said. "At first, I don't think he even thought he had made it."
Russell, who scored eight of his 18 points in the fourth quarter, had two chances to get even and failed both times. He took a pretty pass from John Stockton and was fouled with three seconds left but short-armed both free throws.
"He's a great free-throw shooter. I didn't think he would miss," Portland forward Brian Grant said. "When he missed the first one, I was shocked. When he missed the second one, I was happy."
After Pippen rebounded the second and made 1-of-2 from the line, Russell's potential game-winning 3-pointer was blocked by Wallace, who knocked Russell to the floor as the horn sounded.
"I got Rasheed up in the air and I thought he fouled me but they didn't call it," Russell said.
The Blazers appear headed for an epic showdown with the Los Angeles Lakers in a matchup of the league's top two teams.
The loss ended yet another fruitless playoff run by the Jazz and the career of guard Jeff Hornacek. One of the game's greatest shooters, Hornacek had said this season would be his last and he scored 10 points in his final NBA game.
"Actually, I wasn't thinking about it being my last game, but it is sad that I won't be out there anymorre," said Hornacek, who was joined at the postgame interview by his wife and three children. "It will give me a chance to spend more time with these three guys and my wife."
"Jeff has been a very great player for us over the years," Jazz coach Jerry Sloan said. "Unfortunately, people waited until this year to recognize what a great player he is. It seems they are more pre-occupied with who makes the slam dunk."
After the game, Hornacek received hugs from Blazers players and a tribute from Dunleavy.
"My opinion is that he will go down as one of the best shot-makers of all time," Dunleavy said. "I have been known to play a good game of H-O-R-S-E, but I think he is probably the best."
Karl Malone had 27 points and 11 rebounds for the Jazz, who led for most of the game and appeared on the verge of forcing a sixth game back in Utah. However, they lost their 14th straight playoff game in Portland dating to 1988.
"This is a tough way to end the season," Malone said. "You get nothing for second place in this business."
Throughout the series, Utah again looked old and unathletic as it again raised questions of whether Malone and fellow superstar John Stockton ever will win a title. The Jazz reached the NBA Finals in 1997 and 1998, losing to Chicago each time.
Until the final seven seconds, Russell was having a terrific game. His long jumper with 3:13 to go gave the Jazz a 75-71 lead and after Pippen made two free throws and Grant tied it with a follow shot, Russell hit a jumper off the dribble to give Utah a 77-75 edge with 1:46 remaining.
A runner by Malone with 47 seconds left made it a four-point lead but Wallace answered with a turnaround jumper with 36 ticks remaining and the Blazers forced Stockton to miss badly on a 3-pointer before Pippen's big shot.
The Jazz led 63-61 entering the final period and baskets by Armen Gilliam and Malone extended the advantage to six points.
Pippen took charge, setting up layups by Detlef Schrempf and Grant with beautiful passes, and Portland caught Utah at 69-69 on two free throws by Greg Anthony with 6:35 to play.
Arvydas Sabonis had 16 points and nine rebounds and Wallace scored 11 points for the Blazers, who shot 42.5 percent (31-of-73) from the field and held a 44-38 rebounding edge.
Olden Polynice had 10 rebounds and Stockton handed out nine assists for the Jazz, who shot 41 percent (31-of-75). Malone was 11-of-25 and Stockton 2-of-7.
"Let's face it, we didn't play a great game and they came in here and showed us what they were all about," Dunleavy said.
"It's great to be able to win games like this."
Pippen scored nine points in the first quarter but Hornacek had eight and the Jazz held a 21-19 edge.
The Blazers opened a 29-25 lead on Grant's dunk with 7:34 left in the second quarter before their poor shooting caught up with them. They were outscored 16-4 the rest of the period and shot just 33 percent (13-of-39) in the first half, exiting to some boos.
Russell triggered Utah's surge with a pair of 3-pointers around a long jumper, opening a 33-29 lead. He added another jumper as the Jazz built a 41-33 halftime advantage.
Things looked bad for Portland when Wallace injured his left knee scoring the first basket of the second half. A jumper by Stockton extended the lead to 49-40 with 9:09 left, but Wallace returned and the Blazers fought back.
Damon Stoudamire had a pair of 3-pointers to fuel the rally and the Blazers tied it, 61-61, on a 20-footer by Wallace in the final minute of the third quarter.