Pippen grabs bull, Blazers by horns

Six-time champion is showing the way

June 02, 2000|By Don Markus | Don Markus,SUN STAFF

PORTLAND, Ore. - Scottie Pippen's demeanor seemed to change the moment he knew the Portland Trail Blazers were going to play the Los Angeles Lakers in the NBA's Western Conference finals. Gone was the regular-season cool, and the quiet confidence he showed in the first two rounds against the Minnesota Timberwolves and Utah Jazz.

Even some of his teammates noticed.

Before Lakers coach Phil Jackson tried to cast Pippen in the uncomfortable role as Portland's only leader - a position Jackson knew Pippen has never liked playing from their years together in Chicago - Pippen's sense of purpose went beyond simply beating the Lakers for another chance to play in the NBA Finals.

It also meant chasing away the ghosts, not to mention a few skeptics, that followed him after six championships with the Bulls.

The smile became a scowl, one which he is still wearing going into Game 6 tonight at the Rose Garden.

"When he was with Michael and Phil, people said if he wasn't there, it wouldn't have mattered," Trail Blazers point guard Damon Stoudamire said yesterday. "He's trying to show everyone that he's a driver, that he just didn't go along for the ride for six championships."

While he hasn't quite put Portland in the driver's seat - the Trail Blazers still trail three games to two in the best-of-seven series- Pippen was responsible for keeping his team up and running. Pippen set the tone in Game 5 on Tuesday in Los Angeles, scoring12 points in the opening quarter and22 overall in Portland's96-88 victory.

As it usually is with Pippen, one of the most complete players in the game's history, it wasn't merely the points he scored. He also finished withsix rebounds,six steals,four blocked shots and helped get several Lakers, most notably Kobe Bryant, into foul trouble. This despite suffering two dislocated fingers on his non-shooting hand during the game.

What also did not go overlooked Tuesday was Pippen's emotional state. He was under control from start to finish, unlike Game 4 when he found himself in early foul trouble and wound up giving Shaquille O'Neal's backup, John Salley, a forearm shove to the back of the head in the waning moments of a103-91 defeat.

Jackson said Pippen should have been suspended. Fined $10,000 by the league, Pippen seemed to resent Jackson's opinion, storming out of a post-game news conference when the remarks of his former coach's name were relayed to him by a Chicago writer.

"Phil is not my coach," Pippen said before walking off the podium. "... I am not listening to anything you tell me about Phil."

Asked yesterday if he made a conscious effort not to show frustration on the floor in Game 5, Pippen became more defensive.

"What frustration have I shown?" he asked.

Told of the incident involving Salley, Pippen said, "I always play frustrated. I always look that way."

Especially now with Portland on the brink of elimination.

Having coached Pippen for nine seasons in Chicago, Jackson is well aware of what motivates his former star. "It's not good for us because Scottie plays desperate basketball well," he said.

Pippen has not had to play that way for much of his first season in Portland. The Trail Blazers, who brought in Pippen from Houston and Steve Smith from Atlanta in hopes of winning the championship, coasted late after it became evident that they weren't going to catch the Lakers for the best record in the West.

Though statistically he had one of his worst seasons ever - his 12.5 points average was the lowest since his rookie year in1987-88 and hisfive assists a game were the lowest since his second year - Pippen has given the Trail Blazers what they wanted when they unloadedsix players to get him.

"He does so many things for us," said coach Mike Dunleavy. "A lot of times, what he does isn't noticed by someone looking at a stat sheet. Being a great playmaker or a great defensive player. The intangibles. But he always has the ability to fill up a shat sheet."

Pippen seems to enjoy the fact that the burden of leadership doesn't fall squarely on his shoulders, as it did with Jordan in Chicago. Nor does he shy away from taking charge, whether it means driving hard to the basket on Bryant or refusing to give in to any of his former coach's mind games.

"It's still the same: I haven't changed anything I've done from playing in Chicago," said Pippen, a six-time All-Star there who was selectedthree times on the NBA's first-team. "It' just now the spotlight seems to be on me. I know what I have to do for our ballclub."

Considering what Pippen and the Trail Blazers have done in their past two games in Los Angeles, a victory tonight might put them in the driver's seat in this series. Some ghosts from Chicago will be watching. So will some skeptics.

One in particular, the tall guy with the beard on the other team's bench.

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