Work in Sports
PORTLAND, Oregon (Ticker) -- The Western Conference finals has lived up to its promise and become an epic. The Portland Trail Blazers are trying to make it historic.
The Trail Blazers forced a seventh game with a 103-93 victory over the Los Angeles Lakers as they rode big games from Steve Smith and Bonzi Wells and stymied Shaquille O'Neal.
For the second straight game, Portland raced to an early lead and turned back a half-hearted rally by Los Angeles, which fell to 2-5 in close-out games and seems to be feeling the pressure.
Game Seven is Sunday in Los Angeles, where Portland will have a chance to become the seventh team in NBA history to erase a 3-1 deficit and win a best-of-seven series. Waiting for the winner in the NBA Finals is the Indiana Pacers.
"It's not about momentum. There's no momentum," Blazers coach Mike Dunleavy said. "With this series, it's one game at a time and you have to bring it each time. The team that does that gets it."
Smith scored 26 points, including 10 in the first quarter, when the Blazers took the lead for good. He made 10-of-18 shots and also had a key steal and layup midway through the third period to stem a rally by the Lakers.
"I think all of us -- myself, Scottie (Pippen) and Det (Detlef Schrempf) -- provide the veteran leadership," Smith said. "Every now and then, one of us is going to step up."
Wells scored a playoff career-high 20 points, including 14 in the fourth quarter, when Portland built its lead to 15 points. Playing just 19 minutes, Wells hit 8-of-13 shots.
"I just came out and played hard and took what the defense gave me," Wells said. "I just tried to be aggressive. The last couple of games I wasn't really finishing around the basket like I wanted to."
The Blazers again collapsed on O'Neal, who had his worst game of the series with 17 points on 7-of-17 shooting. Portland did a great job of denying him the ball and smothering him when he did get it. O'Neal's troubles at the line returned as he made just 3-of-10 free throws.
"Shaq struggled all night," Lakers coach Phil Jackson said.
Kobe Bryant scored 33 points despite a sprained right foot for the Lakers, who seemed more interested in fighting the Blazers than fighting their way back into the game.
Forwards Rick Fox of the Lakers and Scottie Pippen of the Trail Blazers, who had a shoving match in Game Three, got into it again before Dunleavy traded obscenities with Fox.
"It can't work on me but I'm sure they're going to try everything," Pippen said. "Rick Fox told me, 'It's going to be on when we get to LA.' I'm looking forward to it."
This was Portland's first home win in the series and third in which it limited the minutes of its smaller point guards.
Starter Damon Stoudamire got off to a quick start and scored 14 points in 31 minutes. But reserve Greg Anthony did not play as Dunleavy again used Pippen to trigger the offense.
"That's been our thing the whole series," Wells said. "I just wanted to post the smaller guards and if they come to double to find the open man. That's the formula that's been working good for us and hopefully work good for us in Game Seven."
"We knew it would be hard to come up here and win three games," O'Neal said.
The Lakers had cut a 49-39 halftime deficit to four points when Smith poked the ball away from Rice and cruised in for a layup and a 53-47 lead with 8:29 remaining in the third quarter. The Lakers went cold and Smith added a foul shot and a runner for a 56-47 bulge with 7:13 left.
"When Steve Smith got the steal off Glen Ricer at the top of the key, their lead was five (actually four) at the time and it went back up to 11 (actually nine)," Jackson said. "We just didn't do what we had to do and that cost us."
Smith scored nine points in the period, which ended with the Blazers holding a 71-63 lead. Baskets by Arvydas Sabonis and Pippen -- his only one of the game after scoring 22 points in Game Five -- extended the advantage to 12 points.
That's when Wells took over as he turned back every surge by Los Angeles. He answered a 3-pointer by Brian Shaw with a jumper and a hook by O'Neal with a layup. His two free throws made it 83-68 with 6:57 to play.
"If you watched Bonzi at all this year you know that he can put up some big-time numbers on some really great defenders," said Dunleavy. "Who you play in situations like that often depends on the feel of the game. In this case, Bonzi was on a roll so we rode with him."
The Lakers closed to 83-75 but Pippen made two free throws and Smith drilled a 3-pointer. After another 3-pointer by Shaw, Wells had a strong drive and two free throws for a 92-78 lead with 2:57 left. Despite a 3-point flurry by Bryant, the Lakers got no closer than eight points.
Rasheed Wallace scored 18 points and Sabonis was effective with 10, 11 rebounds and six assists for the Trail Blazers, who shot 50 percent (37-of-74), held a 43-34 rebounding edge and made 28-of-34 free throws.
"The reason sabonis stayed out of foul trouble is because they weren't calling anything," O'Neal said.
Shaw and Rice scored 12 points apiece for the Lakers, who shot 45 percent (34-of-75), including 12-of-19 from 3-point range.
But they made just 13-of-27 foul shots.
For the sixth straight game, Portland got off to a good start.
Stoudamire pushed the tempo and had three driving layups and two assists in a 12-0 run that gave the Blazers a 20-11 lead with 2:46 left in the first quarter.
"After a decent start, then turnovers hurt us in the first quarter," Jackson said.
Smith hit a pair of jumpers around one by Sabonis to close the quarter and extend the lead to 26-15. Consecutive jumper by Brian Grant made it 32-17 with 8:40 remaining in the second period.
The Lakers rallied and closed to 47-39 on Bryant's 3-pointer but Stoudamire shoveled a pass to Wallace for a thunderous dunk just before the horn.