The Western Conference Finals are here as the Los Angeles Lakers and the Portland Trailblazers battle it out. The Lakers finished the regular season 67-15 and were the number one seed. The Blazers record ended at 59-23, good enough for third overall in the West. Reigning NBA MVP Shaquille O’Neal is the playoffs leading scorer, and looks to add a large sum to that total.
In the first quarter, the two teams were neck and neck in their attempt to gain an advantage. The Blazers starters included, Damon Stoudamire, Scottie Pippen, Arvydas Sabonis, Rasheed Wallace and Steve Smith. Coming off the bench, Brian Grant, Greg Anthony, Jermaine O’Neal, Bonzi Wells and Detlef Schrempf. Just another sign at how overpowered most of the Western Conference teams were in the early 2000’s. For the first 12 minutes of the game, both teams were trying to feel-it-out and get a sense of game plans. For the Lakers it was simple, feed Shaquille O’Neal. The difficult task for O’Neal is the range that Sabonis has on his jumper, stretching the floor and leaving the paint open for the Blazers to collect offensive rebounds.
When you’re defending against the Lakers, you want to limit the amount of dunks and layups O’Neal, especially at home. The Lakers were distributing the ball around very well, as all of their starters scored in the first quarter; the Blazers matched them stride-for-stride as the first quarter ends.
Lakers set the trail a blaze
The second quarter saw the Lakers start to run away as they outscored the Blazers 37-16. Wallace only saw action for 11 seconds as he picked up his third foul early-on and received his classic Technical Foul from the bench. Robert Horry and Rick Fox come off the bench for the Lakers as they go on an 18-2 run. The Lakers hit five-of-six from three-point territory during the stretch as the Trailblazers could not find anything to ignite their team. When Wallace received his “tech” it really took the wind out of their sails. O’Neal played all 24 minutes and wrapped up the first half with 14 points, five assists and four rebounds. Bryant totaled 12 points, five assists and three rebounds in 21 minutes. Horry scored all 12 of his first half points in the second quarter.
Aside from Wallace missing most of the action in the first 24 minutes, Sabonis did not score a single point, or grab a rebound. O’Neal was having his way with the 35-year old.
Blazers chips away at the lead
Halftime adjustments were made by coach Mike Dunleavy to try and slow down the Lakers domination of this first game. The changes that were made, did work; however a 21-point deficit is extremely hard to overcome. Portland outscored Los Angeles by eight (30-22) in the third, and it can be attributed to Bryant picking up three fouls, and only contributing a single point to the scoreboard. O’Neal scored on five-of-six of his shots, however the Blazers were shooting the ball much better to start the half. Pippen stepped up into the leadership role that the team needed pulling down five rebounds and scoring five points. Wallace still only saw 5:17 in the third, before being ejected after receiving his second Technical Foul. As a lifelong Lakers fan, and Bryant being my favorite player of all-time, Wallace was and is my second favorite- not kidding.
Oh my, O’Neal
O’Neal dominated the fourth quarter, almost scoring more than the entire Blazers team- himself. Six rebounds, four blocks, 16 points, showing the entire world — once again — why he is the NBA’s MVP. Re-watching these games gives you so many refreshing memories, such as the following quote.. “Bryant announced his engagement to an 18-year old high school senior named Vanessa Laine,” Bob Costas said. Pretty cool moment to unknowingly catch.
The Blazers finished the fourth quarter stronger, scoring 22 to the Lakers 24- but that second quarter really sealed their fate for this one.
O’Neal finished with 41 points, 11 rebounds, seven assists and five blocks. Bryant played in foul trouble and only shot nine times finishing his night with 13 points, six assists and three rebounds. Pippen led the way for the Blazers with 19 and Bonzi Wells, who played more than anticipated after the Wallace ejection, supplied 17 off the bench.
The Lakers came out swinging in this game and drew first blood. We all know how it ultimately ends, however the recaps and replays will continue to come.