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Los Angeles 92, Portland 91
Posted: Sunday April 28, 2002 11:46 PM
Los Angeles Lakers
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Portland Trail Blazers
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PORTLAND, Oregon (Ticker) -- It's called championship mystique. The Los Angeles Lakers have it and Scottie Pippen has lost it.

Pippen was victimized yet again by the Lakers, who took advantage of his mistakes down the stretch to complete another first-round sweep of the Portland Trail Blazers with a 92-91 victory.

One of the NBA's 50 Greatest Players, Pippen won six championships as Michael Jordan's sidekick with the Chicago Bulls. But he left the Bulls as part of the dismantling of the dynasty after the 1997-98 season and has not come close to a championship since.

Pippen has spent one season with Houston and three with Portland. Each time, he has been eliminated from the playoffs by Los Angeles, going out in the first round three times.

"I'm never happy to lose," Pippen said. "Losing and understanding why you lost makes a difference. We made some mistakes in today's game that cost us the ballgame. We've got to find a way to get through this team."

This one had to be particularly painful. In the final 10 seconds, he missed a free throw, blew a defensive assignment and threw away an inbounds pass, turning a certain victory into a season-ending defeat.

"It's frustrating," Pippen said. "There's no doubt we wanted today's game. They made a lot of big shots to give themselves an opportunity to stay in the ballgame and win it. That's the sign of a champion."

The third-seeded Lakers eliminated the Trail Blazers for the third straight year, the last two being first-round sweeps. They await the winner of the series between San Antonio and Seattle as they pursue a third consecutive championship.

"We know what it takes," superstar center Shaquille O'Neal said. "We're going to be very, very focused and there's no room for slippage. We're just working on No. 3."

"The big key for us is the next series doesn't start until next Sunday, and that allows us an ample opportunity to prepare ourselves to look at the other opponents in the other bracket and watch their games," Lakers coach Phil Jackson added.

Pippen had his usual solid all-around game with 18 points, 11 rebounds and eight assists. But none of that helped Portland down the stretch.

A follow dunk by Rasheed Wallace gave the Blazers an 89-84 lead with 39 seconds left. Rick Fox answered with a layup and Wallace made 1-of-2 from the line with 17 seconds to go.

"We had some help from some of their players," Fox said.

After Kobe Bryant's 3-pointer pulled Los Angeles within a point, Pippen was fouled with 10.8 seconds remaining. He made the first but missed the second, giving the Lakers a chance to tie or take the lead -- which they did.

"Scottie missed a free throw and allowed us to take the game," Horry said.

From above the 3-point circle, Bryant dribbled right against Ruben Patterson. Pippen jumped in front of Bryant, trying to draw a charge but leaving Robert Horry open in the corner. Bryant pulled up and dished to Horry, whose 3-pointer gave the Lakers a 92-91 lead with 2.1 seconds left.

"The guys on their bench were yelling and then all of a sudden everything slows down for you, and I shot it and made it," Horry said. "I was surprised that Pippen bit that hard and allowed me to get the rock."

"It's cash. He's done it so many times," Bryant said.

Blazers coach Maurice Cheeks called timeout and said, "Come on, Scottie!" as Pippen approached the bench.

"I knew it was Robert," Pippen said. "I hadn't guarded him throughout the game. We made some substitutions there at the end. I didn't get out to him and it cost us the ballgame, pretty much."

"Instincts take over," Cheeks added. "You look to help and that's what happens. I don't think it was a breakdown of a play. I think your instincts take over."

On the next possession, Pippen tried to inbound to Wallace, but his pass was overthrown and intercepted by Horry, who was fouled with less than a second to go. He missed both free throws, but the Blazers did not get another shot.

"Painful. It's like breaking your heart," Blazers guard Derek Anderson said. "I've been in difficult losses, but I don't remember one of this magnitude."

"The game was not won or lost on that last play," Cheeks said. "We had Steve (Kerr) popping out and Rasheed in the post, but we just couldn't get them the ball."

It was another clutch playoff shot by Horry, who scored just eight points. He was a key component of Houston's championship teams in 1994-95 and made a big 3-pointer in Game Three of last year's NBA Finals.

"I got my right rhythm," Horry said. "I got my feet down. I got to spin the ball and get it on the seams instead of just catching to shoot. If I can catch it and spin it and put it on the seams, nine times out of 10 I'm probably going to knock it down."

"He's a critical time player," Jackson said. "We have to gauge his moments so that he's there on the floor at the end of halves and end of games so that he can do that."

Bryant scored 25 points and O'Neal added 21, 11 rebounds and seven assists for the Lakers, who have won 19 of their last 20 playoff games, including seven in a row.

Said O'Neal, "I knew what their strategy was going to be. So rather than playing into their strategy and going through the whole team and (owner) Paul Allen and (general manager) Bob Whitsitt, I said to myself, 'I'm going to keep my teammates involved.'" Wallace had 20 points and 12 boards and Bonzi Wells scored 19 points for the Blazers, who have lost seven consecutive playoff games, all to the Lakers.

Portland led by as many as five points in the fourth quarter. After a fast-break layup by Rick Fox gave Los Angeles an 84-82 lead with 4:08 to play, Damon Stoudamire made a 3-pointer and Wells sank two free throws.

O'Neal, who was 11-of-16 from the line, missed a pair before Wallace's dunk.

The Blazers limited O'Neal to one basket in the first half but still trailed, 50-41, as the Lakers closed with a 14-4 surge. But Los Angeles missed its first 10 shots of the third quarter, and a 3-pointer and two free throws by Pippen capped a 13-2 run that gave Portland a 54-52 edge.

A free throw by Shawn Kemp widened the advantage to 59-53 with 5:28 left. Bryant ended the drought with a jumper at the 4:45 mark.

Fox scored 16 points and Fisher added 11 for the Lakers, who shot 46 percent (32-of-70) from the field.

Anderson scored 12 points for the Blazers, who shot 38 percent (32-of-84) but held a 53-37 rebounding edge.