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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Portland Trail Blazers player
Portland Trail Blazers player /

Game 4: Los Angeles Lakers @ Portland Trail Blazers

The difference in this particular game came down to the supporting casts. The Blazers’ depth was one of their strengths, but they got little to no production out of the bench in this one. Bonzi Wells, after averaging 14.5 points in games 1 and 2, put up a paltry 3 points per game in games 3 and 4 in Portland. Game 4 in particular was a poor one for the Blazers 6th man, going 0-3 and ending with a plus/minus of -30 in 19 minutes. Brian Grant converted two baskets, the only two field goals for the entire bench.

Normally you would expect the role players to perform better at home and worse on the road, and for the coach to have more faith in his guys to be consistent in their own building. Portland’s defensive strategy remained consistent throughout the series, to limit Shaq and Kobe as much as possible through double teams and helping off the Laker role players.

But boy did the role players show up in this one for Los Angeles. Ron Harper shot 6 of 12 from the field, and finished with 18 points in 34 minutes. Glen Rice had his best game of the series, scoring 21 overall, and 12 in the crucial 3rd quarter that swung the momentum and the game to the Lakers.

Phil Jackson finally gave Robert Horry the vast majority of the minutes at the power forward position, despite keeping Green as the starter. Green played 16 minutes whereas Horry received 30. Horry provided spacing at that position (although he didn’t shoot the ball well in this series) that Green simply did not. With all the double teaming the Blazers were throwing at the Lakers, any extra spacing they could get on the floor helped their offense function.

The other thing that was quite obvious in this game was how critical Shaq’s absence was to the Lakers. While the pace in terms of total number of possessions didn’t increase in this game, the speed at which the teams got into their half court offense seemed noticeably quicker. Shaq, again playing most of the game, was visibly gassed. John Salley replaced him and played 2 minutes and 36 seconds. In that time, the Lakers were outscored 10-0. Sabonis got a tip-in during this sequence, the easiest bucket he would get all series.

Not only was Shaq able to show incredible stamina in this series, but he had a stretch where he could not miss from the free throw line. He went 9 for 9 in game 4. Dunleavy utilized “Hack-a-Shaq” at various times in the series, but between games 3-5, O’Neal converted enough from the stripe that it wasn’t a tenable strategy.

The MVP was truly a nightmare to deal with, and when you add in a free throw rhythm as well as little to no time on the bench, his presence would be overwhelming for just about any team in NBA history. O’Neal finished with 25 points and 11 rebounds, and the Lakers rolled into Portland and took both games, winning 103-91. Things looked incredibly bleak for the Blazers, trailing 3-1 in the series and having to go on the road with their season on the line.

Game 5: Portland Trail Blazers @ Los Angeles Lakers

If Game 3 was the Kobe game, Game 5 belonged to Scottie. Showing the heart of a champion, Pippen put the Blazers on his back, making play after play defensively and showing consistent aggression on the offensive end. He finished with 22 points on 8 of 12 from the field, 6 steals and 4 blocks. He was just 2 assists and 1 block away from the rare 5-by-5 game (totalling at least 5 in 5 separate statistical categories), something that has only been done 22 times in NBA history.

Dunleavy got good production off his bench, including from Detlef Schrempf, who played 26 minutes and was a +9 after playing a combined 13 minutes in the previous two contests. The Blazers, after being forced to go big in Game 2 due to Stoudemire’s foul trouble, went back to that in this game to great success.

Stoudemire played just 14 minutes, and Portland’s big lineups gave the Lakers problems. Without Stoudemire on the floor, the Blazers didn’t have any defensive weak links. Kobe shot just 4 of 13 in the game. The main concern with going without a traditional point guard is the lack of ball handling, but Pippen and Smith were both capable of bringing the ball up the floor and getting Portland into their offense. The Lakers also didn’t have the personnel to take advantage of that weakness, as their point guard trio, Harper, Fisher, and Shaw, were all better equipped to deal with bigger players due to their size and strength.

Dunleavy deserves some criticism for not recognising the value of the big lineups after game 2. He didn’t utilize them much at all in Portland. A lot of the value of coaching is coming up with solutions and making adjustments quickly. Dunleavy waited until his team was down 3-1 to truly embrace it, and drastically reduced their likelihood of winning the series.

Shaq had another monster game for the Lakers in defeat, putting up 31 points and 21 rebounds. Portland ended up winning 96-88, and were in control of the game from the outset. When down 3-1 and playing on the road in game 5, winning that can be a big momentum changer, particularly because you get to come back home off the high of that victory. The Cleveland Cavaliers rode that momentum to a title in 2016.