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SPORTS EXTRA / NBA PLAYOFFS

Shaq Sacks the Hack

After Lakers Run Up Big Early Lead, O'Neal Fouls Up Strategy at End

May 21, 2000|TIM KAWAKAMI | TIMES STAFF WRITER

You knew there would be shouts and casualties, sporadic weirdness and sudden blasts of glory.

You knew this series couldn't conclude without Rasheed Wallace getting tossed or Shaquille O'Neal drawing a stream of fouls and shooting dozens of free throws or Phil Jackson and Mike Dunleavy plotting against each other and dragging the action on and on.

But all in Game 1?

The marquee best-of-seven NBA Western Conference finals matchup began uproariously with a 109-94 Laker victory over the Portland Trail Blazers before 18,997 at Staples Center, triggered by a huge performance by the Laker reserves and lighting the fuse for future mayhem.

It was a stage-setting series-opener, featuring uplifting surges, electric displays of temper and a strange brown-out in the fourth quarter, when Dunleavy, Portland's coach, tried to cut into the double-digit Laker lead and stopped the game cold by ordering 12 intentional fouls of O'Neal over the last, endless 5:27.

"We're not afraid to have Shaq on the line," said Laker forward Rick Fox, who played a key role when the Lakers rushed to a 21-point halftime lead.

"It's not the first time we've seen it. They obviously are going to pull out all the stops; [they] found themselves in a situation I'm sure they didn't expect to be in.

"What was left to do but hope that Shaquille would miss every possible free throw? And that wasn't the case."

O'Neal, who had 41 points, 11 rebounds and seven assists, eventually came through by making 10 of his final 15 free throws--after missing six in a row--and made 13 of 27 overall.

He also set NBA playoff records for most free throws attempted in a half (27) and quarter (25 in the fourth).

But even after O'Neal shot the Portland sideline several menacing stares during the procession, Dunleavy made it clear that he almost certainly would use the tactic again this series.

"Obviously, [when] we get down to the end of the game, I don't think it's a bad strategy," Dunleavy said. "From our standpoint, had we scored better, we'd have a chance to win the game.

"I can't not do what I think, from a strategic standpoint, is the right thing to do because people are going to miss their cocktail reservation or something."

Game 2, by the way, is Monday night at Staples Center. Can everybody handle five or six more of these?

Maybe Dunleavy will have O'Neal go to the line on every possession of an entire game soon--no dribbling or passing necessary, simply a three- or four-hour individual Pop-a-Shot performance?

Jackson conceded that he considered pulling O'Neal when he started missing the free throws--and Portland edged to within 97-88.

"What do you mean, would I ever consider it? Of course I considered it, you think I'm crazy?" Jackson said.

"It's a tactic that you have to deal with. I think Mike is playing percentages. . . . But it stops the ballgame. . . .

"I thought [the Trail Blazers] were going pretty well until they started to hack Shaq and that kind of changed the momentum of the ballgame--got the crowd into it, got Shaq, he hit seven in a row, got us playing a little more inspired."

Jackson removed O'Neal for a brief respite after O'Neal's seventh make in a row gave the Lakers a 104-89 lead with 3:53 to play, but he put him right back in when 7-foot-3 center Arvydas Sabonis returned about a minute later.

"I thought it was important to have a good game against Arvydas, and Shaq had shut him out and I thought it was important to keep him quiet," Jackson said.

"I put Shaq back in and they could continue their dreariness, their drudge that they're doing."

The Lakers put Portland in such a desperate place by playing a nearly perfect first half, capped off when Robert Horry, Brian Shaw and Fox led a second-quarter charge. The Lakers outscored the Trail Blazers in the quarter, 37-16, to take a 63-42 halftime lead.

In the second quarter alone, with Portland scrambling to double-team O'Neal and Kobe Bryant and leaving every other Laker open, Horry made three of four three-pointers, Fox made one and Shaw made both his shots and had five assists.

The Lakers made eight of 12 three-pointers in the first half, and finished with a playoff-high nine in 19 attempts.

"They believed what they've heard probably around the league all year," Fox said, "that we're a Shaq-Kobe-Glen [Rice] team, and the rest are paperweights.

"The disrespect that they've given the rest of the players on this team is something that [has] not gone unnoticed."

Said Horry, who scored all of his 12 points in that period: "Our bench gets talked about so much, and every now and then we'll sneak up and bite you in the butt."

Jackson had a brief exchange with his longtime former player, Scottie Pippen, during the second quarter when Pippen (who led Portland with 19 points, 11 rebounds and five assists) took a pause from rocketing all over the court to help out on all of the Laker shooters.

"I just said he can't guard everybody on the whole team," Jackson recounted.

And Pippen's response? "I'm going to try."

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