Pippen, Blazers answer Lakers' knock, 96-88

Portland's versatility breathes life into series

May 31, 2000|By Don Markus | Don Markus,SUN STAFF

LOS ANGELES - Death's door was apparently locked for the Portland Trail Blazers last night at the Staples Center.

The place where Los Angeles Lakers coach Phil Jackson had said his team's Western Conference final opponents were knocking after falling behind three games to one Sunday in Portland magically disappeared from sight when the Trail Blazers came away with a stunning 96-88 victory.

Scottie Pippen, whose own disappearing act last weekend had contributed to losses in Games 3 and 4 at the Rose Garden, silenced his critics - not to mention his former coach with the Chicago Bulls - in leading the Trail Blazers with 22 points, six rebounds, six steals and four blocked shots.

Pippen's performance was made all the more remarkable by the fact that he dislocated two fingers on his non-shooting left hand during the game. Pippen had help from Rasheed Wallace, who is emerging as a star in his own right and also scored 22. Shaquille O'Neal led the Lakers with 31 points and 21 rebounds.

"Obviously, we did what we came here to do, which is to take it one game at a time, see if we can't win one here and send it back to Portland," said Trail Blazers coach Mike Dunleavy. "We're going home a winner and hope we come back here."

The series will resume Friday night in Portland, and now takes on a different feel. While the Trail Blazers still have to win the last two games - including a possible Game 7 back here Sunday - they have at least raised more questions about the inability of the Lakers to put teams away in the playoffs.

It happened against Sacramento, which won both of its home games to force a fifth and final game in the opening round, as well as against Phoenix, which, after losing the first three games in the conference semifinals, won decisively at home in Game 4 before losing in five.

`This is disappointing for us, but not surprising," said Jackson. "We didn't shoot the ball well and we took too many threes. We ended up staying on the perimeter trying to get the ball into Shaq but were not finding a way. You have to give Portland credit for that."

Every time the Lakers seemed on a verge of a comeback, the Trail Blazers would have the answer. Usually it was Pippen or Wallace, and sometimes it was Steve Smith (13 points) or even reserve Brian Grant (nine points, seven rebounds).

O'Neal couldn't bring the Lakers back by himself, and he wasn't helped by co-star Kobe Bryant, who except for one scoring binge in the third quarter had a horrendous night shooting (four of 13 for 17 points) while struggling to defend Pippen.

Asked if Bryant was a little out of control, given his six turnovers and six personal fouls in 34 minutes, Jackson said, "He wasn't a little out of control. He was a lot out of control."

Pippen was just the opposite, forcing the 21-year-old Bryant into early foul trouble and continually making big plays on offense and defense. He had 12 points in the first quarter despite missing three free throws, 16 in the first half , and his three-point shot right before the halftime buzzer gave Portland a 53-45 lead.

"We came out and played well," said Pippen, who had been fined $10,000 by the league for throwing a forearm at the back of John Salley's head toward the end of Game 4 Sunday in Portland. "In the last two games, the referees took me out of the game. When you get into foul trouble, you can't attack."

Asked how difficult it was to play more than a half with a couple of dislocated fingers, Pippen said, "It wasn't that difficult. I set the plan of how we were going to play, to be aggressive and my teammates followed."

Jackson called Pippen "a presence who shouldn't have been out there tonight," alluding to what he thought was a more flagrant offense than the one Lakers guard Brian Shaw was suspended and fined for after stepping onto the court during a timeout as Pippen and Rick Fox got into an altercation in Game 3.

After the game, Jackson said he told that to Pippen and Pippen responded by saying `Thanks." But Pippen grew testy when it was mentioned later. "Phil's not my coach and I'm not going to listen to anything Phil says," Pippen said at a postgame news conference that ended when he stormed out.

Both Wallace and Pippen admitted that they still have to work to even the series.

"We were down in the hole, it's not that we're out of it yet, we're still in the hole," said Wallace, who overcame a first-quarter technical foul to present problems for the Lakers trying to stop him inside. "We still have a lot of work to do."

But so do the Lakers, who can go back to Portland with the confidence that comes from winning there the past two games as well as during the regular season. But they also will bemoan the fact that their chance for a long rest before the team's first NBA Finals since 1991 was gone.

It was an opportunity missed," said O'Neal. "There is an old saying, `You live by the jump shot, you die by the jump.' We took 27 threes and made only six. I thought our defense did a pretty good job but we didn't put the ball in the basket."

The Trail Blazers did something else last night.

They didn't open death's door at the Staples Center.

Apparently, it was locked.

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