|Blazers go cold after building 15-point bulge|
LOS ANGELES -- For 38 minutes, the Portland Trail Blazers
repelled every charge the Los Angeles Lakers made. Then the roof
Portland's 15-point lead evaporated in a 6½-minute stretch of
the fourth quarter when the Blazers couldn't make a basket. The
Lakers hit three critical 3-pointers, tied the game and then put it
away over the final 1½ minutes for an 89-84 victory Sunday.
"We lost this game in one quarter," said Scottie Pippen, who
came to Portland this season wanting to add a championship to the
six he won with the Chicago Bulls.
Instead, the Lakers clinched the Western Conference finals 4-3
and advanced to the NBA Finals for the first time since 1991.
"We realize we sort of made cowards of ourselves in the fourth
quarter," Pippen said. "We played like we were fatigued and they
gained the momentum they needed to pull this game out."
The Blazers missed 13 consecutive shots in the 6½ minutes
despite getting good looks at the basket.
"We got shots we wanted and didn't hit them," said Steve
Smith, who scored 12 of his 18 points over the end of the third and
start of the fourth to propel the Blazers to the 15-point lead.
"This game and whole series has been a series of runs. The game
of basketball is runs," he said. "We had a great chance."
Making it even more painful was the fact that the Blazers all
but made Shaquille O'Neal disappear for three quarters. He had nine
points at halftime and was scoreless in the third quarter when
Portland led by 13 points.
"They were playing their best ball the whole game," O'Neal
said. "We were scratching and clawing and with eight minutes left
we clamped down."
With the Lakers quickly erasing their deficit, the Blazers went
to Rasheed Wallace, who came up empty time after time despite
leading the team with 30 points.
He missed twice on one possession, then a jumper by Bonzi Wells
went in and out. Pippen missed, then Wallace missed three straight
and the Blazers failed to grab offensive rebounds.
"I blew some layups in the post, missed some jumpers. I'll live
and die with those shots," Wallace said in a subdued locker room.
"It's upsetting, but you've got to live another day. We played as
hard as we could."
The Blazers insisted they weren't looking ahead to the finals
when they opened the fourth quarter ahead 71-58.
"I thought our guys did an outstanding job for the full 48
minutes," coach Mike Dunleavy said. "Our focus, our concentration
was there. Our defensive intensity was there. We did a lot of
things right for most of the night."
Pippen said the momentum change in the fourth quarter affected
"We wanted to be aggressive and continue to take the ball to
the basket, but the momentum of the game shifted. When that happens
the officiating tends to shift and we didn't get the calls that we
were getting," he said.
"Shaq was able to camp out in the lane much longer knowing all
of us had five fouls. The officials never focused on that, and if
you allowed him to stay in the lane like that, when you have to
sink back in and guys are shooting the ball as well as they shot
from the 3-point line in the fourth quarter, then they're going to
be a tough team to beat."
|Portland's Scottie Pippen eluded Ron Harper and the Lakers for nine first-quarter points, but he missed six of seven shots after that.|