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Wow! The West Is Won

Lakers' Amazing Fourth-Quarter Run Earns Them a Spot in Finals

Pro basketball: L.A. comes back from 15-point deficit to defeat Portland, 89-84, in Game 7.

June 05, 2000|TIM KAWAKAMI | TIMES STAFF WRITER

The past tugged at them, and the Portland Trail Blazers tugged harder.

They looked weighed down and desperate, and tripped toward failure again.

Then, at the moment of truth, as darkness threatened, Kobe Bryant ran faster, Brian Shaw shot truer, and Shaquille O'Neal jumped higher than anyone could have dreamed, including the Lakers themselves.

The Lakers saw the light ahead of them. They did not fall.

And the Lakers, in one quarter, almost blew up Staples Center in the process.

In the fourth quarter of the seventh game of the third playoff series of the first season of Phil Jackson's Laker coaching lifetime, the Lakers overcame a 15-point deficit, reeled in the Trail Blazers, and won a trip to the NBA finals with a staggering 89-84 victory before 18,997.

It was the biggest Game 7 fourth-quarter comeback in NBA history.

The Lakers, who have not been to the NBA finals since 1991, host Game 1 against the Indiana Pacers on Wednesday.

"Yeah, that was a daunting uphill battle that we had to face," Jackson said after it was over. "We made it back."

It was more than daunting, of course.

The first three quarters, after which Portland led, 71-58, were the summation of every responsibility the Lakers had failed to live up to, and every significant victory they had failed to record during the last three seasons.

O'Neal couldn't get the ball. The other Lakers couldn't get it into the basket. The Trail Blazers were whizzing into the lane, and throwing in three-point baskets. Jackson was calling timeouts to yell at his players.

After giving up a basket and two free throws to pump the Portland lead to 75-60 with 10:28 to play, the Lakers stopped Portland 10 consecutive times, began making shots of their own and soon panic turned to hope, surprise and finally euphoria.

"You lose yourself in it," forward Glen Rice said of the explosion, which saw the Lakers outscore the Trail Blazers, 25-4, at one point.

"We were thinking keep going, keep applying the pressure, continue to keep going down on the offensive end and keep getting good shots and hopefully this team will fall in the end.

"And they did."

Said Jackson: "[Game] 7s are interesting games, aren't they? I've never seen one quite like that before, or had a team that I thought had run out of gas as much as I thought they had in the third quarter.

"Portland seemed to strike us for like nine straight possessions."

The Lakers tied the score for the first time in the fourth quarter at 75-75 on Shaw's second three-pointer of the quarter, with four minutes left, capping a 15-0 rocket-burst.

Earlier, Shaw banked in a three-point shot at the end of the third quarter, to narrow what had been a 16-point Portland lead, the largest of the game.

"Any time you can have a guy throw something like that," Rice said of the Shaw shot, "and it goes in off the glass, you've got to realize that things are about to turn around for you."

After Portland scored, O'Neal tied it again with two free throws (he was three for four in the final quarter).

Then a few minutes later, with less than a minute left, Bryant drove into the lane and tossed the ball wildly toward the top of the backboard.

Only, about 15 feet in the air, O'Neal reached up with his right hand and intercepted the ball, as Bryant knew he would, and threw it down thunderously, to give the Lakers an 85-79 lead and nearly break Staples' roof to pieces.

"This was, I think, a building stone for our team," Jackson said.

"Heart and effort," said Bryant, who had 25 points, 11 rebounds, seven assists and four blocked shots, when asked how the Lakers pulled this off.

"They outworked us pretty good in the last couple of games. We didn't want that to happen in the seventh game, particularly on our home floor. We just brought a lot of heart and a lot of energy."

Said Rick Fox, of forcing Portland into 12 straight missed shots: "We did things defensively first, then we knocked down some shots.

"The pressure mounted and shifted towards them, their shots didn't fall."

So the game of the season was the game for the season.

So the fourth quarter was jammed with every burden that possibly could be placed on this team, and it saved the season.

"They're an excellent defensive team, they have been all year," said Portland Coach Mike Dunleavy, whose team made only five field goals in the fourth quarter.

"Maybe the pressure, maybe the hands, the extra bumps, everything that goes along with it, maybe it wore us down. Maybe some of our guys were a little bit tired down the stretch."

Said Fox: "It was definitely a borderline wrestling match at times. . . .

"That's the only way we found a way to win. We just got gritty with it."

And what does it feel like to pull off the greatest Game 7 comeback in NBA history?

"It's a spent feeling," said Fox, sprawled in front of his locker. "Because we fought uphill. . . . down 12, 15 points. In 12 minutes though, everything changed."

Can Indiana possibly put the Lakers through this much?

"I hope not," Fox said.

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