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Lakers find right SPF for Suns

Posted: Wednesday, May 17, 2000

LOS ANGELES -- The Los Angeles Lakers simmered for two days after being blown out in Phoenix.

So they returned the favor, but good.

''This game's a mystery to me,'' Lakers coach Phil Jackson said after the Lakers humiliated the Suns 87-65 Tuesday night to win the best-of-seven Western Conference semifinals in five games.

''How's that for killer instinct?'' wondered Kobe Bryant, the game's high scorer with 17 points.

Phoenix held a 71-48 halftime lead en route to a 117-98 victory on Sunday to force a fifth game. The 117 points were the most scored by a Lakers' opponent this season.

In Game 5, the Suns equaled a playoff record for futility in the first half, scoring only 23 points. And their final total of 65 fell six points short of their first-half output two days earlier.

''We just couldn't make shots,'' Suns coach Scott Skiles said. ''We had a bunch of open looks, we just didn't make them.''

Shaquille O'Neal had 15 points, 21 rebounds and three blocked shots despite sitting out the fourth quarter for the Lakers, who face Portland in the best-of-seven conference finals, starting Saturday at Staples Center.

The Trail Blazers eliminated the Utah Jazz on Tuesday night, also in five games.

''Team-wise, we played an inspiring game,'' O'Neal said. ''Personally, I didn't play that well, but my teammates stepped up for me. We played great defense and were real active with our hands. We came out and took it to them. We got a lead and never lost our focus.''

Jackson didn't agree with O'Neal's assessment of his play.

''I thought he was real dominant in the game,'' Jackson said. ''I thought he changed shots, controlled the boards. He played with a little bit of a banged up knee, banged up shin.''

O'Neal was injured Sunday and wore a sleeve on his lower right leg.

The Suns were a beaten team by late in the second quarter, and it showed in their body language after they continued to miss shot after shot, many unopposed.

The Lakers had two 10-0 runs in the period on their way to a 49-23 halftime lead.

''I think the reason we were so frustrated was because of all the trash-talking they did before the game,'' said Penny Hardaway, who was held to eight points after averaging 24.8 in the first four games. ''I think that had everybody's adrenaline going, and then not to be able to knock down those shots kind of demoralized us.''

The Suns' 23 first-half points tied the playoff record in a half set by Utah in the second half of a 96-54 loss to Chicago Bulls on June 7, 1998 in the NBA Finals. The 54 points are the playoff record low for a game.

The Suns also tied the playoff record for futility in a second quarter, when they scored nine to the Lakers' 28.

Phoenix shot 2-of-17 in the second quarter (11.8 percent), and 8-of-37 in the half (21.6 percent).

''We wanted to be more aggressive defensively, run the fast break and get them in foul trouble,'' said Glen Rice, who had 14 points for the Lakers.

That's exactly what happened.

Cliff Robinson, who averaged 24.5 points previously in the series, picked up his third foul three minutes into the second quarter, and sat out the remainder of the half. He finished with eight points.

Center Luc Longley also picked up his third foul in the second quarter.

Todd Day led the Suns with 10 points, all but two in the fourth quarter. Jason Kidd, who had 22 points, 10 rebounds and 16 assists for his first playoff triple-double in Game 4, was held to eight points, seven rebounds and two assists.

TrailBlazers 81, Jazz 79

PORTLAND, Ore. -- All Scottie Pippen needed was a few feet of space between him and Bryon Russell. And just like that, the Utah Jazz's season was over.

Pippen, dazed for several minutes after being inadvertently knocked down from behind by teammate Arvydas Sabonis, hit a 3-pointer with 7.3 seconds left, lifting the Portland Trail Blazers to a victory. The loss eliminated the Jazz 4-1 in the best-of-seven series.

''It was my opportunity to take the shot, and I made it,'' Pippen said. ''I was looking to go inside to Rasheed (Wallace) to try to get something quick. They played it pretty good. Russell jumped back in the passing lane, and I just looked for the shot.''

Pippen created just enough room to get off the game-winner after moving Russell back with a head fake.

''He was so deep,'' Russell said. ''And he's not a good 3-point shooter anyway, so I felt good about it. He looked like he prayed it in anyway, but it went in.''

Even after that, Pippen's work wasn't done. Trailing 80-79, Utah had a chance to take the lead when Russell was fouled by Detlef Schrempf with three seconds left, but Russell missed both free throws.

Russell complained that someone was ''shaking and jumping down on'' the basket support, altering his first shot. There was brief confusion as the officials decided what to do, but they didn't award him another try.

Pippen grabbed the rebound of the second miss, was fouled immediately and hit one of two free throws for an 81-79 lead.

Utah, which staved off elimination with an 88-85 victory in Game 4 on Sunday, had one last chance.

With 1.4 seconds left, Russell inbounded the ball to Karl Malone, who gave it back to Russell, whose shot was way off.

The Jazz and coach Jerry Sloan heatedly called for a foul, but no whistle came.

''You saw it. It happened right in front of me. He was definitely fouled,'' Sloan said.

Portland will meet the Lakers in the best-of-seven conference finals starting Saturday in Los Angeles. The Blazers and Lakers haven't played since Feb. 29, when Los Angeles won a matchup of the league's top teams.

The Jazz, beaten for the second straight year by the Blazers, have been a perennial contender, twice reaching the NBA Finals.

But it was the last game for that team in its current form.

Guard Jeff Hornacek has said he is retiring. And it's doubtful Utah can make another run without dramatically changing the team surrounding Malone and John Stockton.

''Actually, I wasn't thinking about it being my last game, but it is sad that I won't be out there anymore,'' Hornacek said.

Malone had 27 points and 11 rebounds. Russell had 18 points and Hornacek 10.

''This is a tough way to end the season,'' Malone said. ''You get nothing for second place in this business.''

Pippen led the Blazers with 23 points, nine rebounds and eight assists. Sabonis scored 16 points.

Pippen went down with 5:36 left in the game. Sabonis had just made a hook shot to tie it at 71, and he accidentally hit Pippen with an elbow while lunging forward. Pippen was on his back on the baseline, but soon walked off, and he missed only 1:17 of game time.

He returned just in time for a thrilling finish.

Brian Grant rebounded two straight misses, including his own, and laid the ball in to tie it at 75 with 2:10 remaining. A leaning 13-foot jumper by Russell put the Jazz back ahead 77-75 with 1:46 left.

The Blazers turned it over on their next two possessions -- on a bad pass by Pippen and an offensive foul by Grant -- and Malone hit a running jumper that rolled in for a 79-75 lead with 47 seconds left.

Wallace hit a turnaround jumper over Malone to make it 79-77, and the Blazers got the ball back with 12.6 seconds left after Stockton was forced to take an off-balance 3-pointer with the shot clock running down. It barely caught iron, and Pippen rebounded and called timeout.

''He's been a big playmaker, shotmaker all year long,'' Portland coach Mike Dunleavy said. ''You've got to have guys that want to take the shot, willing to take the shot and can make the shot. And he did that.''

The game was physical and fast from the start. Pippen, determined to break out of his offensive slump, put up eight shots in the first quarter, scoring nine points. But the Jazz made their last six shots of the period to take a 21-19 lead.

Pippen scored just 15 points on 6-of-22 shooting in the previous three games and was annoyed at Dunleavy for sitting the first 9:49 of the fourth quarter in Game 4.

Starting the second quarter with Malone and four reserves, Utah missed 11 of its first 13 shots and fell behind 29-25 on a two-handed slam by Grant.

Then Russell started firing away, sinking a 3-pointer, a long jumper just inside the arc and another 3 to start a 16-4 Jazz run to end the half. Malone grabbed an offensive rebound and made a 16-foot baseline jumper for a 41-33 lead.

Utah pushed the lead to nine in the third, but started to slip again. After Malone's jumper made it 56-48, the Jazz went the last 5:35 of the quarter without a basket. They held onto the lead by hitting seven of their 10 free throws, and Malone's pair made it 63-61 entering the fourth.

Notes: Utah lost its 14th straight playoff game in Portland. ... Only one of Portland's 17 best-of-seven series has gone the distance: a 4-3 win over San Antonio in the 1990 conference semifinals. ... Smith has missed six of his last 18 free throws in the past two games after making 42 in a row during the playoffs dating to last season with Atlanta. ... During the series, Portland outscored Utah 122-94 in the fourth quarter.



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