Work in Sports
LOS ANGELES (Ticker) -- First the Los Angeles Lakers used a long-range attack. Then they foiled "Hack-a-Shaq."
With Robert Horry draining 3-pointers and Shaquille O'Neal knocking down free throws, the Lakers cruised to a 109-94 victory over the Portland Trail Blazers in Game One of the Western Conference finals.
After Horry scored all 12 of his points in the second quarter to help stake the Lakers to a 24-point lead, the Trail Blazers cut the deficit in half and began intentionally fouling O'Neal with about 5 1/2 minutes to go.
"I kind of knew they were going to do that," O'Neal said. "I think that is the ultimate respect to may game."
"I like to mess with him," Horry said. "I tell him, 'Alabama vs. LSU.' He usually makes them when I say that."
The fouls were not hard and came with the ball sometimes 50 or 60 feet away. It was a variation of the "Hack-a-Shaq" strategy developed by Phil Jackson -- O'Neal's current coach -- when the superstar was with Orlando and Jackson was with Chicago.
"It's a tactic you have to deal with and I think Mike was playing percentages," Lakers coach Phil Jackson said. "The odds are in favor that you will miss one. But it stops the ballgame and it is tough to run sets every time that you come down. I think that helped us play some defense after a bit."
"I look at it as rest," Lakers All-Star guard Kobe Bryant said.
"While he was up there shooting free throws, we had a chance to rest."
The NBA Most Valuable Player and a career 53 percent free-throw shooter, O'Neal attempted 24 foul shots the rest of the way.
After making one to give Los Angeles a 97-84 lead, he missed six in a row. But the Blazers -- who self-destructed all game --could not capitalize, scoring only four points themselves.
"We were trying to get him on the free-throw line," Portland guard Bonzi Wells said. "Shaq shot 50 percent on the season and (we) try and go with the percentages. ... We got as close as eight or nine but we just couldn't get over that hump and hit those key shots."
O'Neal finally found the range, making seven in a row to elicit chants of "MVP" from the Staples Center crowd and extend the lead to 104-89 with 3:57 remaining. At one point, he glared at Blazers coach Mike Dunleavy.
"I think it took him a little while to get his rhythm but once he settled into what they were trying to do, he just knocked them down," Bryant said.
"Well, he's a 40 percent free-throw shooter and he was 13-of-27 today, so that's under 50 percent," Dunleavy said. "Obviously, if we get down in the game, I don't think it's a bad strategy.
Had we scored better, we would have put ourselves in a position to win the game."
The fouls extended the game to 2:48, which was of no concern to Dunleavy. He continued the gamesmanship and war of words between the league's top teams.
"I can't not do what I think from a strategic standpoint is the right thing to do because people are going to miss their cocktail reservations," he said.
Game Two is Monday at Los Angeles.
"We have done nothing," Jackson said. "We have won the first game on the home court and the second game is always tougher than the first."
O'Neal scored 41 points, shooting 13-of-27 from the line -- all in the second half. He set NBA playoff records for foul shots in a quarter (25) and half (27) and fell five short of the game record set by Boston's Bob Cousy in a four-overtime contest in 1953.
"I started to catch a rhythm and I am known throughout my career to hit at least one," O'Neal said.
"Hack-a-Shaq" was not the only strategy Portland tried that did not work. The Blazers stationed 7-3 center Arvydas Sabonis above the arc in an attempt to draw O'Neal away from the basket.
In addition to his 41 points, O'Neal had 11 rebounds. Sabonis had zero and one.
While Portland treated the arc as a decoy, Los Angeles used it as a weapon. The Lakers made 8-of-12 3-pointers in the first half, opening a 63-42 lead. Horry was a huge factor, drilling three 3-pointers.
The first half was full of bad signs for the Blazers. They did not attempt a free throw. Their bench was outscored, 20-10.
They committed eight turnovers while forcing only two. Sabonis did not attempt a shot. Rasheed Wallace picked up three fouls.
But the worst sign came with 6:43 left in the third quarter, when Wallace was ejected with his second technical foul -- for simply staring at referee Ron Garretson. At All-Star Weekend, Wallace said he would never get thrown out of a playoff game.
"Obviously, we cannot have an All-Star sitting in the locker room with the game under 10 points with five minutes to go," Dunleavy said. "It's important for us to have him on the floor.
At some point in time he has got to understand that and no matter what the circumstances are -- even if he's right and it's a bad call -- that doesn't do us any good."
Glen Rice scored 15 points and Kobe Bryant added 13 for the Lakers, who shot 53.5 percent (38-of-71) from the field and committed only seven turnovers. O'Neal also had a team-high seven assists.
Scottie Pippen had 19 points and 11 rebounds and Bonzi Wells scored 17 points for the Blazers, who shot 42 percent (33-of-78) and made 21-of-24 free throws.
In the first quarter, the Blazers played the Lakers to a 26-26 deadlock. However, the second quarter was a disaster as a tip-in and dunk by Brian Grant were all Portland had over nearly the first eight minutes. In the 26-4 explosion, Horry had three 3-pointers and Rice and Rick Fox added one apiece.
In a 40-second flurry, Horry converted a three-point play and a 3-pointer before Bryant's steal set up Fox's 3-pointer that pushed the lead to 44-28 with 8:21 remaining. Rice and Horry drilled 3-pointers just over a minute apart to make it 52-30 with 4:29 left.
A 3-pointer by Brian Shaw extended the lead to 63-39 in the final minute before Portland's Steve Smith closed the half with a 3-pointer.
"Our bench gets talked about so much and every now and then we will sneak up and bite someone on the butt," Horry said.
"We're deeper than we thought," Bryant said. "The bench has been doing a nice job for us all playoffs long, coming in and hitting some big shots for us and getting the momentum going."
Los Angeles still held an 81-57 lead after O'Neal made his first free throw of the game with 3:22 to play in the third quarter before Portland rallied behind Wells and Pippen, closing within 85-72 entering the final period.
A 3-pointer by Wells made it 93-83 with 7:08 remaining and the Blazers had a chance to get closer. But Steve Smith missed an open 3-pointer, O'Neal made a hook and "Hack-a-Shaq" began a minute later.