Work in Sports
PORTLAND, Oregon (Ticker) -- Glen Rice is making his jump shots, Shaquille O'Neal is making his free throws and the Los Angeles Lakers are making quick work of the Portland Trail Blazers.
Rice finally came alive with 13 of his 21 points in the decisive third quarter and O'Neal foiled another dose of "Hack-a-Shaq" as the Lakers again outclassed the Trail Blazers, 103-91, and took a commanding 3-1 lead in the Western Conference finals.
The Lakers answered all the questions about their toughness and ability to handle adversity by winning both games in Portland. They are one win away from their first trip to the NBA Finals since 1991 and can get it at home on Tuesday.
"I think these two victories show a lot of confidence and we've gained a lot of character in a pressure situation," Lakers guard Kobe Bryant said.
The Blazers are out of options and almost out of the postseason. They have tried everything with O'Neal, from double-teaming him to sagging on him and daring his teammates to make outside shots to intentionally fouling him, which backfired today as O'Neal -- a career 53 percent foul shooter -- was 9-of-9 from the line.
"There's a funny story about that," O'Neal said. "I called my daughter. She's 3 years old and really doesn't know the game. I said, 'Daddy loves you' and she answered, 'Good luck and bend your knees.' So that game was for her."
"I took Shaq out after he went 9-for-9 at the free-throw line," Lakers coach Phil Jackson said. "I had to take him out to keep his stat sheet and told him he should put it on the wall."
Portland limited O'Neal and Bryant to 35 points on 11-of-25 shooting in its Game Two win and did another good job on the superstars, holding them to 43 points on 13-of-32 shooting. But Rice and Ron Harper had big games, squelching that strategy.
Rice averaged only 9.7 points and 7.3 shots through the first three games of the series, failing to provide the Lakers with another offensive threat. However, he celebrated his 33rd birthday in fine fashion, making 7-of-11 shots, and was lethal in the third quarter, scoring 13 points in just over six minutes.
"I had my mind made up I was going to go out and and be very aggressive on offense and try to give my team a spark," Rice said.
"Today was Glen's birthday, so I told Glen to do something I did when it was my birthday, because on my birthday I shot it all the time," said O'Neal, who scored 61 points on his birthday on March 6.
Harper, who made the winning jumper in Game Three, scored a playoff-high 18 points. He contributed six points in the third period, when the Lakers outscored the Blazers, 34-19, to open a 10-point lead entering the final 12 minutes.
"Guys on the team are doing a good job of finding me," said Harper, who also made 6-of-6 foul shots. "I got to the line a lot tonight."
"I thought Ron kept playing better throughout the game," Jackson said. "We even played him with four fouls and he got better as the game went on."
Portland was unable to pare the deficit and still trailed 87-77 when it resorted to "Hack-a-Shaq" with 5:53 to go. Already 3-of-3 from the line, O'Neal made two free throws and hit four more to open a 95-80 lead with 4:12 left and take the fight out of the Blazers.
"It's not possible to be better than 9-for-9," Blazers coach Mike Dunleavy said. "That's the answer right there. It's not the league making new rules, it'ss not anything else. That's the answer -- make your free throws and it makes it tough on other teams to do that."
O'Neal had 25 points and 11 rebounds and Bryant contributed 18 and seven assists for Los Angeles, which limited Portland to just 39 percent (30-of-77) shooting. The Lakers were the NBA's worst foul-shooting team during the season but made 31-of-34 today.
Rasheed Wallace scored 34 points, the most by any Blazer this season. He also grabbed 13 rebounds but was the only Portland player to score from the field for the first nine-plus minutes of the fourth quarter.
"It's do or die," Wallace said. "I believe in my heart that with the talent that we have in this locker room that we can pull it out. I am not going to give up. I am going to go down fighting until the last minute, last second has gone off that clock."
"It's not uncharted territory for us to go to LA and get a win," Dunleavy said. "Our focus has got to be you play one game. You don't look at the whole series unless you're a New Jersey Devils fan."
Steve Smith scored 20 points, Arvydas Sabonis added 14 and a frustrated Scottie Pippen 10 and 11 rebounds for the Blazers, whose vaunted bench was outscored, 19-8.
In the pivotal third quarter, Rice outscored O'Neal and Bryant, 13-12. After taking only three shots in the first half, he made three in the first four minutes of the third quarter, bringing the Lakers within 52-51.
"I was disappointed in my play in the first half. I had too many turnovers (four)," Rice said. "I came out aggressive on the offensive end. My teammates started looking for me and started setting screens."
"Glen got us going and everybody got better," Jackson said.
"He's been an important part of our team all season and he suffered not getting as many shots in the playoffs as he did in the regular season. We knew we had to get him his shots."
A.C. Green's jumper on the next possession gave Los Angeles the lead for good and a 3-pointer by Rice extended the advantage to 60-54 midway through the period.
"They were able to add Rice to the mix today," Dunleavy said.
"He was able to get some shots and get his confidence. In particular, that was strong because I thought we did a better job defensively on Kobe."
Harper's layup and Bryant's 3-pointer made it 69-60 with 2:36 to go. The Blazers cut it to five points before an awful sequence to close the period. They fouled O'Neal too late and the big man turned it into a three-point play. Bonzi Wells missed two free throws and Derek Fisher drove for a layup and a 76-66 bulge.
O'Neal opened the fourth quarter with a lane jumper and Robert Horry added a transition layup, building the lead to 14 points.
Portland got no closer than the final margin.
Just as they did in Game Three, the Blazers got off to a quick start. And just as it did in Game Three, Portland got sloppy and allowed Los Angeles back in it.
Sabonis scored five points as the Blazers bolted to a 10-2 lead in the first three minutes. A free throw by Pippen pushed the advantage to 17-6 with 4:26 to go before Portland settled for a 25-16 lead after one period.
However, the Lakers put together a 15-2 run to open the second quarter that was helped by three turnovers and poor shooting by the Blazers. Bryant was scoreless until he capped the burst with a three-point play and a 3-pointer for a 31-27 lead with 7:27 left in the first half.
Pippen returned and Portland responded with 10 straight points.
The Blazers took a 47-42 halftime lead on a 3-pointer by Smith, who scored 12 points before intermission.