On West trail, Blazers even

Once down in series 3-1, Portland forces Game 7 in L.A., 103-93

June 03, 2000|By Don Markus | Don Markus,SUN STAFF

PORTLAND, Ore. - The Portland Trail Blazers were considered dead men walking when they went into Staples Center on Tuesday night, trailing the Los Angeles Lakers three games to one in their Western Conference final series.

They were seemingly headed for a quick and quiet elimination from the NBA playoffs.

But guess who's still alive after an impressive 103-93 victory in Game 6 at the Rose Garden?

The Trail Blazers will be going back to their home-away-from-home court tomorrow in Los Angeles, where they have won the past two games and will try to become only the seventh team in history to turn a 3-1 deficit into a trip to the NBA Finals. Portland hasn't been to the Finals since 1992.

I guess we got what we all came for," said Portland coach Mike Dunleavy. "Everyone wanted a Game 7 between two great teams. It all comes down to that. Today we came with passion and intensity for 48$minutes - the thing we didn't do in our first two home games in the series."

The Trail Blazers finally showed they could win on their home court, something they hadn't done here in games 3 and 4 against the Lakers and in last year's conference finals against the San Antonio Spurs. They also showed something else.

Portland showed it was more than just Scottie Pippen and a bunch of high- priced role players, mainly because Pippen barely showed up offensively. It didn't matter at all. Veteran guard Steve Smith, who like Pippen was brought in to help Portland get to the championship series, led the way last night with 26 points.

But Smith had plenty of help, as reserve forward Bonzi Wells scored 20 points and forward Rasheed Wallace added 18. Point guard Damon Stoudamire helped the Trail Blazers to a 10-point halftime lead by scoring 12 of his 14 points in the first half.

"Damon got going, Steve got going and we just stayed with those guys," said Pippen, who took only one shot in the first half and six for the game, hitting one while finishing with nine points. " I just stayed out of and made sure we played good defense."

Playing on a foot he slightly sprained earlier in the week, Kobae Bryant led the Lakers with 33 points. But Shaquille O'Neal, the league's Most Valuable Player and their leading scorer both during the regular season and in the playoffs, was held to 17 to go along with 11 rebounds.

"We knew it would be hard to come up here and win three games," said O'Neal, who missed 10 of 17$shots he took and seven of 10 free throws. "If we do everything right [tomorrow], we'll be fine. We have to play our game and stay aggressive."

The Lakers stayed aggressive to the bitter end last night. Aside from a flagrant foul called against O'Neal flagrantly fouling Pippen earlier in the game, Dunleavy and his players thought there were several unnecessary fouls toward the end of the game.

It led to Dunleavy exchanging angry words of profanity with Lakers reserve Rick Fox in the closing minutes, for which both received technical fouls. It could set the tone for a physical game come tomorrow, as a sense of desperation seems to have enveloped the Lakers.

"I think that we're fine," said Lakers coach Phil Jackson, when asked about his team's psyche. "They understand what this series is about. They understand it's a war. The battle is lost, but the war is not over."

Trying to get to their first NBA Finals since 1991, the Lakers have turned into a team of bad jump shooters as they grow increasingly impatient with O'Neal double- teamed inside. Los Angeles will have to go back to a place where Trail Blazers have won games 2 and 5 of the series.

The winner of tomorrow's Game$7 will play the Indiana Pacers, who earlier last night beat the New York Knicks for the Eastern Conference title.

Trailing 49-39 at halftime, the Lakers seemed to make a little run to start the second half and closed to 51-47 on a three-point shot by forward Glen Rice early in the third quarter. But after a turnover by Pippen, Smith stole the ball from Bryant and scored on a breakaway layup.

"That seemed to take the wind out of our sails," Jackson said.

Falling behind by as many as 15 points, at 83-68, with a little under seven minutes left, the Lakers cut their deficit to 83-75 on a pair of free throws by O'Neal with 5:31 remaining.

But Pippen made a pair of free throws himself, and after Bryant missed in the lane, Smith hit a three-pointer from the corner - and ended any hopes of a miraculous comeback by Los Angeles. Bryant kept knocking down three- pointers, but the Trail Blazers kept knocking down free throws to put the game away.

"They got to the free-throw line, and it was working in their favor," Bryant said. "If we would have made some free throws, I felt we would have been in the ballgame."

Just as O'Neal's unusually hot shooting earlier in the series was contagious for the Lakers in Game$4, when they made 31 of 34 from the line, so was his cold shooting last night. The Lakers made 13 of 27 overall, and missed nine times in the second quarter alone.

It was another chink in what seemed like an impenetrable armor after Game$4 here a week ago tomorrow, another opportunity that the Lakers let pass. Now they have to go home to Los Angeles, to a court where they've lost their past two games, against a team that suddenly has a second life.

Dead men walking? Not any more. Not after what happened last night.

Baltimore Sun Articles
Please note the green-lined linked article text has been applied commercially without any involvement from our newsroom editors, reporters or any other editorial staff.