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Lakers Go Fourth

Game 4: Another rally in final quarter pushes L.A. past Portland, 95-91. Utah is up next.

May 03, 1997|SCOTT HOWARD-COOPER | TIMES STAFF WRITER

PORTLAND, Ore. — Beyond the 27 points each from Shaquille O'Neal and Elden Campbell, noteworthy performances to be sure, and Jerome Kersey forever ingraining himself in Laker history, no minor accomplishment either, there was the poise of the team that so many have questioned as being too immature to win.

It was on display throughout the first-round series against the Portland Trail Blazers, but never more than when it came to an end Friday night at the Rose Garden. The Lakers, controlling the fourth quarter again. The Lakers, making clutch free throws.

The 95-91 victory in Game 4 before 21,538 was for the series, 3-1, and a trip to Salt Lake City to face the Utah Jazz in the Western Conference semifinals that begin Sunday afternoon, when a loss would have meant a deciding Game 5 against the Trail Blazers about the same time at the Forum.

But it came because of their composure.

The fourth-quarter margin of victory this time, with Campbell getting 11 of his 27, was 27-17, meaning the Lakers outscored the opposition by an average of 11.3 points when the game was on the line.

In Game 3, all it did was make a bad loss look decent, and in Game 2 it helped to preserve a big lead when a Portland run came, but the other two times it made the difference.

Friday, the Lakers, last in the league from the foul line during the regular season, made 17 of 20 free throws in the final period and an astounding 38 of 44 in all. They may have shown signs of improvement over the final month or so, even with the 26 of 42 in the previous outing, but 86.4%, with 10 in a row without a miss to end the night and the series, is a major event.

"We were down [early] in the fourth, but we said we pretty much owned this team in the fourth," said Laker point guard Nick Van Exel, who made only four of 13 shots, but also grabbed eight rebounds, tying for the team high, to go with his 11 points and five assists. "That was big for us."

The Trail Blazers' misery came in large part because of Robert Horry's. His offensive slump having stretched into the fourth game of the series--eight rebounds and defense compensated for the one-of-six shooting--meant another major role for backup Kersey, who not only spent the first 11 seasons of his pro career here but still calls it home.

At least until the eviction notice comes today.

It was Kersey who grabbed the offensive rebound when Eddie Jones became the last Laker to miss a free throw, creating the opportunity for Campbell to cut down the lane, get fouled on a dunk attempt, and make both from the line.

That earned an 85-85 tie with 1:55 remaining.

"That's my game," Kersey said. "Going for it regardless."

The Lakers got the ball back after Portland's Arvydas Sabonis missed a wild, rolling hook from the right side, but the chance to move ahead seemed to slip away when O'Neal couldn't convert a baseline jumper.

But Kersey, in a season in which he has produced far beyond expectations, far beyond what any team had the right to get in return for a player at the veteran minimum of $247,500, came through with his biggest play.

Another offensive rebound.

A tip-in of the O'Neal miss, to be exact, providing a 87-85 advantage with 1:17 left.

"I just attacked the boards," Kersey said. "And it came off just right."

The Lakers didn't waste the efforts, never relinquishing the lead as Jones, Van Exel and Horry, having gone back in to play alongside Kersey at power forward, went to the line in a row and made all six tries, even after a rare inbounds violation called on Horry. And when the Trail Blazers closed to within 93-91, Campbell was fouled intentionally with 8.5 seconds showing, and made two more.

"Two out of four games, we were winning or it was close going into the fourth quarter and they outplayed us," Portland center Chris Dudley said. "And that's where they won the games.

"During the regular season, I think we outplayed them during the fourth quarter, and that's why we won three out of four. But during the playoffs, when it counted, and especially down in the last three or four minutes of the game, they out-executed us and outplayed us.

"It seemed like we were going to be able to take care of the game, but it just got away from us. Somehow, they came up with the big plays, the hustle plays."

The poise plays.

(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX / INFOGRAPHIC)

Four-titude The Lakers dominated the Trail Blazers in the fourth quarter of each playoff game. A look: *--*

Lakers Game Port. 27 One 15 29 Two 24 32 Three 14 27 Four 17 115 Total 70

*--*

(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX / INFOGRAPHIC)

LAKERS vs. BLAZERS

Lakers win series 2-1

* Game 1: Lakers, 95-77

* Game 2: Lakers, 107-93

* Game 3: Trail Blazers, 98-90

* Game 4: Lakers, 95-91

CHEAP SHOT

Shaquille O'Neal talked to the league about a hard foul in Game 3 but didn't seem to get much sympathy. C6

STAYING ALIVE

Steve Smith scored 28 points and the Atlanta bench chipped in as the Hawks forced Game 5 against Detroit. C7

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