LOS ANGELES -- A celebration seemed inevitable. You could almost see the Western Conference championship banner hanging above the star-studded crowd at the Staples Center.
Talk radio was already speculating on who Los Angeles would face in the NBA Finals.
Then the Portland Trail Blazers spoiled everything.
Led by Scottie Pippen, playing most of the game with two dislocated fingers on his left hand, the Blazers stunned the Lakers 96-88 Tuesday night to stay alive in the conference finals.
With Los Angeles up 3-2, the series shifts back to Portland for Game 6 on Friday night. In the first five games, the home team has won only once.
''We're going to have to take a little more time to win this series,'' Lakers coach Phil Jackson said. ''I think that's good for us as a basketball team. This team hasn't grown enough to understand the subtleties of what we are trying to do and it is a good measure for us.''
The Lakers lost two in a row at home for the first time all season. A team so poised and confident in their weekend sweep in Portland could never get rolling.
Portland never trailed. Despite injuring his fingers late in the first quarter when he was called for an offensive foul against Robert Horry, Pippen had 22 points, six steals and four blocked shots. In the process, Pippen broke Michael Jordan's record for career playoff steals with 380. Jordan's record was 376.
''That's just Pip being a warrior. This is no time to sit out,'' Portland's Rasheed Wallace said. ''Like the other night when I hurt my ankle. That team is just too tough for us to sit out.''
Jackson said he told Pippen he shouldn't even have been playing in the game after elbowing John Salley in the back of the head late in Portland's homecourt loss in Game 4 Sunday.
''He shouldn't have been playing in this ballgame,'' Jackson said. ''He clearly threw a cheap-shot elbow to the back of the head and he just got fined $10,000. I wanted to tell him that he was a presence who shouldn't have been there.''
In the latest of what has been a back-and-forth bickering between the player and his former coach, Pippen was unimpressed by Jackson's opinion.
''Phil is not my coach. I'm not listening to nothing you tell me about Phil. Have a good day,'' said Pippen, who then left the postgame news conference.
Wallace was just 7-for-21 from the field, but scored 22 points, including seven of eight free throws, and grabbed 10 rebounds. Steve Smith added 13 points, and Arvydas Sabonis 12. Two reserves who barely caused a ripple in the series, Brian Grant and Detlef Schrempf, added nine each.
Shaquille O'Neal did his best to make it the big night everyone expected with 31 points and 21 rebounds. Ron Harper added 14 points.
But Kobe Bryant made only four of 13 shots, scored 17 points and committed six turnovers before fouling out with 4:45 to play. Glen Rice was 1-for-8 from the field and 0-for-5 from 3-point range, finishing with four points.
The Lakers were just 6-for-27 from 3-point range and shot 38 percent from the field.
''I thought we played pretty good defense. We couldn't put the ball in the basket,'' O'Neal said. ''I think we tried to put them away with all 3s. It's disappointing. We just have to learn from this.''
Portland coach Mike Dunleavy's defensive tactic of double- and triple-teaming O'Neal and leaving others open worked to near perfection.
''This game validates for us what it is we're doing and that we can get it done,'' Dunleavy said. ''It's just a matter of us making it happen for ourselves. It's a high-risk business, and we're taking chances.
"We're leaving a lot of people open.''
Bryant sprained his right foot in the first half, but said it wasn't a big factor in his game. X-rays after the game were negative.
''If we're going to be a championship team, we have to go through some adverse situations,'' Bryant said.
Then he mentioned the noisy crowd in Portland and the prospect of facing a deciding Game 7 Sunday in Los Angeles.
''I think it's good for us,'' he said.
Even though they never led, the Lakers were just a short run away from taking the lead through most of the game.
Trailing 80-67 entering the fourth quarter, the Lakers mounted one challenge. Bryant sank two free throws with 10:02 to play, then scored on a layup and was fouled, making it 82-74 with 9:33 remaining.
O'Neal waved his arms to get the crowd roaring, but after a timeout, Bryant missed the free throw. Grant scored inside and was fouled by Horry for a three-point play to boost the lead back to 87-76, and the Lakers were finished.
Los Angeles closed to 72-67 on Harper's reverse layup with 1:52 left in the third. But the Lakers followed with three consecutive turnovers, and the Blazers scored the final eight points of the period for an 80-67 lead.
The Lakers are 43-7 at home this season, but three of those losses came against Portland.
The Blazers led 52-45 at the break on Pippen's 3-pointer at the halftime buzzer.
The Lakers shot 31 percent in the first half, 22 percent in the second quarter (4-for-18).
The Lakers were 3-for-13 from 3-point range in the first half, but made 14 of 15 free throws, while Portland was 11-for-17 at the line.
Pippen scored 12 in the first quarter on 5-for-5 shooting, but was only 2-for-5 at the foul line.
Notes: O'Neal made his first three free throws to run his string to 15 without a miss over three games. ... Portland was 9-for-15 at the foul line in the first quarter, while Los Angeles was 3-for-3. ... The Lakers were called for 11 fouls in the first quarter, three apiece on Harper and Brian Shaw and two apiece on Bryant and Rice. ... Smith drew three fouls in 1 1/2 minutes in the second quarter. ... Horry was 0-for-6 from the field in the first half. ... Midway through the first quarter, referee Joe Crawford called a technical on Wallace, his first since he was thrown out of Game 1 with two technicals.
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