The sleeping giant, Los Angeles Lakers, woke just in time Sunday to erase a 15-point fourth-quarter deficit, defeating Portland 89-84 and earn a berth in the National Basketball Association Finals.
Scottie Pippen's three pointer with 20 seconds to play had just given Portland their biggest lead of the game at 71-55 late in the third period, when Lakers reserve guard Brian Shaw banked in a three-pointer to close the quarter and signal a resurgence by the Lakers.
"I think that was the turning point right there," said the Lakers' Glen Rice of the shot that Shaw called "lucky".
"I had to toss it up there a little higher and someone guided it in," Shaw said.
As the Lakers heated up, the Blazers went stone cold.
Just minutes away from their first trip to the Finals since 1992, they missed 13 straight shots in the fourth quarter and lost their grasp on a game they had controlled throughout.
"We lost this game in one quarter," said Pippen, who all series traded words with former coach Phil Jackson and shoves with just about every Lakers player. "It's tough to swallow right now."
"We got some great looks, we just didn't put it in the hole," Portland coach Mike Dunleavy said.
The Lakers reached the NBA Finals for the first time since 1991, but what was expected to be a postseason parade nearly became a funeral procession. Los Angeles blew a 3-1 series lead and had just enough to avoid its first Game Seven loss in 16 years.
The Lakers will be favored against the Indiana Pacers, who are in the Finals for the first time in their history. Game One is Wednesday at Los Angeles.
The finalists might not have won without the contribution of Shaw, O'Neal's former teammate with the Orlando Magic, scored 11 points and made three 3-pointers to fuel the comeback.
Los Angeles won its fourth straight Game Seven since a loss to Boston in the 1984 NBA Finals and avoided its first three-game losing streak of the season. Portland fell to 1-1 all-time in Game Sevens and failed to become the seventh team in NBA history to come back from a 3-1 deficit to win a series.
Steve Smith, who scored 18 points, opened the fourth quarter by taking Bryant from the backcourt to the baseline for a runner that made it 73-58. But that was the last basket for Portland for nearly nine minutes.
The comeback began after two free throws by Bonzi Wells made it 75-60 with 10:28 remaining. O'Neal started it with his first basket of the second half and later added a free throw. Shaw made a 3-pointer and Bryant and O'Neal made foul shots to get the deficit down to single digits - (AFP)
© 2000 Al Bawaba (www.albawaba.com)