Portland Trail Blazers: 2000 Western Conference Finals 20th Anniversary

Los Angeles Lakers' Kobe Bryant (C) is cover by Portland Trail Blazers' Damon Stoudamire (R) and Scottie Pippen (L) during the first quarter of Game six on the Western Conference Finals in Portland 02 June, 2000. (ELECTRONIC IMAGE) AFP PHOTO/Hector MATA (Photo by HECTOR MATA / AFP) (Photo by HECTOR MATA/AFP via Getty Images)
Los Angeles Lakers' Kobe Bryant (C) is cover by Portland Trail Blazers' Damon Stoudamire (R) and Scottie Pippen (L) during the first quarter of Game six on the Western Conference Finals in Portland 02 June, 2000. (ELECTRONIC IMAGE) AFP PHOTO/Hector MATA (Photo by HECTOR MATA / AFP) (Photo by HECTOR MATA/AFP via Getty Images) /
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Kobe Bryant (L) of the Los Angeles Lakers is pursued by
Kobe Bryant (L) of the Los Angeles Lakers is pursued by /

Game 2: Portland Trail Blazers @ Los Angeles Lakers

The Blazers stuck to the same defensive strategy they had in the previous contest, but the intensity and execution was significantly better. Instead of double teams on Shaq and Kobe leading to wide-open threes for the Laker’s role players, the Blazers rotated efficiently and made those three-point attempts semi-contested. Los Angeles shot 6-23 on triples.

Offensively, Portland prioritised getting to the basket. Pippen, who attempted 11 threes and just 2 free throws in the first game, took just 1 three and got 12 free throw attempts in game 2. The Blazers attempted 25 free throws in the first half alone.

The third quarter of game 2 was the moment the Blazers put the Lakers on notice. They outscored Los Angeles 28-8 in the period, getting double digit scoring bursts from both Steve Smith and Rasheed Wallace. Pippen swallowed up anything in the paint and forced the Lakers to rely solely on jump-shots. Stoudemire, who picked up his 3rd and 4th fouls in the first 30 seconds of the quarter, played less than 11 minutes total and was a -4 in said time. This was a game the Blazers won by nearly 30, 106-77.

Stoudemire had a really poor series. The Blazers had a 100 offensive rating, and a 112 defensive rating when he was on the floor. Due to his diminutive stature, the Lakers constantly attacked him with post-ups, forcing double teams. Offensively, he was a solid outside shooter, and had the quickness to get into the teeth of the defense, two things the Blazers certainly needed.

But rarely was he able to utilize his strengths to punish the Lakers defense. He shot 40 percent from three for the series, but attempted just 10 total in 178 minutes played. His penetration often didn’t produce positive results. He missed several wide open layups, and rarely was able to drive and kick to create openings for others.

Dunleavy didn’t exactly help Stoudemire get going either. On-ball screening actions are typically a recipe for getting a smaller guard involved in the offense, but the Blazers rarely went to it, even during scoring droughts. And the few times they did, they often put Stoudemire on the left side of the floor and had the screen direct Damon towards the middle.

If you’re wondering what’s wrong with that, watch some old Spurs games when Manu Ginobilli is on the floor. They always start the action with Ginobili on the right side, so when he comes off the screen, he is going towards his strong hand (left), which aids him as a finisher and as a passer. Dunleavy got some very basic stuff wrong in this series.

Game 3: Los Angeles Lakers @ Portland Trail Blazers

This one can only be described as: “The Kobe Game.” With Pippen averaging 20 points through the first two games of the series, Phil Jackson elected to take Kobe off of Stoudemire in an effort to try to slow down the Blazers wing. While this did allow Stoudemire to have one of his better performances in the series, Kobe held Pippen to just 12 points.

Kobe, at his athletic apex, was quick and had incredible leaping ability. So not only was he good at preventing penetration, but in the rare instances where he did get beat off the dribble, he was able to recover and block shots from behind. The only weakness in his defensive arsenal at this point was his strength. He hadn’t quite developed the muscle mass and therefore wasn’t as effective as a post defender.

The Blazers got off to a 15-2 lead early in the game, but Kobe kept the Lakers afloat. He hit four straight jumpers in the first quarter, three of which were simple pull-ups over Stoudemire, who couldn’t really impact his jump-shot. By the end of the period, Kobe had 14 points, and Portland’s lead had been trimmed to 30-22.

Dunleavy, trying to wear Kobe down, brought in Stacy Augmon off the bench. Augmon had barely played in the first two games of the series, and was past his prime. He did score 8 points, primarily through post-ups against Bryant, but was a -9 in 13 minutes.

There was a lot of emphasis placed on trying to attack Kobe on the block, and it definitely worked at times, but attacking Kobe with a bench player was never going to be as effective as utilizing Portland’s primary offensive weapons, like Rasheed Wallace and Steve Smith. Wallace shot 9 of 11 in this game, which begs the question, why didn’t he get the ball more?

Shaq and Kobe played all but 16 seconds out of the full 48 minutes. Phil Jackson always seemed to push the limits of his stars’ playing time, and he did that to the extreme in this series. O’Neal averaged a touch under 46 minutes a game. Dunleavy really had just one option, Sabonis, to defend Shaq capably. There was controversy about the exclusion of Joe Klein (a 7 footer) from the conference final roster, but at 38 years old, it’s doubtful he would have helped much in that regard.

Sabonis played 35 minutes, and was a +7. Unfortunately for the Blazers, in the 13 minutes that Brian Grant and Jermaine O’Neal were at center trying to deal with Shaq, Portland was a -9. While Arvydas was resting, post defense was not the only glaring issue.

Shaq was able to stay around the basket on defense, blocking and altering shots around the hoop and sparking a Lakers run. It looked like Los Angeles had control and were ready to go up 2 games to 1, but Scottie Pippen was not ready to throw in the towel. He scored 7 points in the final 4 minutes, including a pull-up three and multiple right hand jump-hooks over Kobe.

With the game tied at 91 and under a minute left, the Blazers sent a double team at Bryant on the right side of the floor. He made a brilliant skip pass to find Harper in the left side corner for the game winning jumper. On the final possession for Portland, Sabonis faked Shaq at the three-point line and drove into the paint. Unable to get any lift, Harper and Kobe surrounded him and blocked the shot that could have tied it.

Playoff series are often dictated by momentum. The Blazers had all of it after winning game 2 in convincing fashion, and headed home to play in front of some of the best fans in the NBA. Losing game 3 by a single basket, after having a double digit lead, is a tough pill to swallow. While many people consider game 7 as the one that got away, this was an equally brutal loss for Portland.