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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LOS ANGELES, UNITED STATES: Los Angeles Lakers' Kobe Bryant raises his hands after their victory over the Portland Trail Blazers
(Photo credit should read HECTOR MATA/AFP via Getty Images) /

Game 6: Los Angeles Lakers @ Portland Trail Blazers

Steve Smith was one of the best players for the Blazers in this series, and the most reliable offensive engine for the team outside of Wallace. He hit 15 of his 25 three-point attempts and 27 of 30 free throws over the course of the 7 games. While he wasn’t as explosive at this stage of his career, the craftiness and skill was on full display. He could post up, run pick-and-roll, and pull-up from three or the mid-range.

He was able to get quality looks in the pick-and-roll game, especially when Shaq was the man defending the screener. O’Neal never came out to contest the three, in fear of getting beat off the dribble. Smith scored 26 points in game 6, and hit tough shot after tough shot throughout the game to keep the Lakers at bay.

The highlight of the game was a three he hit in the corner leaning back after a pass from Wells. Smith, after knocking it down and putting Portland up 13, skipped his way back to the Blazers bench.

Arvydas Sabonis had his best game of the series, posting a double-double with 10 points, 11 rebounds, and 6 assists. He was a +12 in 45 minutes. Part of the reason for his impressive play had to do with getting multiple days off between games 5 and 6. Sabonis and the older Blazers wouldn’t get the same advantage in the event the series went the distance, with game 6 at Portland on the evening of June 2nd, and the potential game 7 scheduled for the afternoon in Los Angeles on June 4th.

Wells put up 20 points in a little over 18 minutes of play. The big lineups featuring no point guards made it difficult for the Lakers to hide any of their weaker/smaller defenders. Wells attacked Shaw in the 4th and Los Angeles didn’t have much of an answer. Bonzi’s contribution in the series was a bit disappointing. The best games he had came in a blowout win in game 2, and the closing stages of the 4th quarter of game 6 when the game was seemingly wrapped up.

He was only in his second season at this point, so inconsistency isn’t surprising, but they really could have used some offensive punch in games 3, 4, and 7. Dunleavy unfortunately didn’t give any players on the bench consistent minutes, which certainly didn’t help Bonzi and the rest of the reserves perform well. Dunleavy looked at his bench like a tool box, and used different players for different situations, which worked on occasion. But overall I thought it hurt the team, making the bench less reliable and therefore stifling that advantage.

One bright spot for the Lakers in defeat was the play of Brian Shaw. He hit 4 threes and helped the Lakers put up 30 points in the final period. The Lakers offense was unstoppable when the defense was punished for doubling Shaq and Kobe, and Shaw was the best shooting option the Lakers had at the point guard position. The 103-93 win for Portland set up a do-or-die game 7 at Staples Center.

Game 7: Portland Trail Blazers @ Los Angeles Lakers

The officiating throughout the series was acceptable, with bad calls going both ways. Obviously officiating Shaq is a huge challenge, and it was a very physical series. Dick Bavetta, Hugh Evans, and Steve Javie were the refs selected by the NBA for the biggest game of the season, and they didn’t have the best day. There have been plenty of jokes over the years of Dick Bavetta being a ref that favours the home team, and he, along with the rest of the crew, certainly did that. We’ll get back to this in a minute.

The Blazers, like they did often in the series, got off to a great start. They fed Rasheed the ball early and often, and he was cooking with turnarounds over both shoulders. He hit a pick-and-pop three to give him 13 points and put Portland up 35-25 with 6:26 left in the first half. Wallace of course was most known for his temper and getting called for lots of technicals. He had 38 in the 1999-00 season, and set the NBA record for most technicals with 41 in the 2000-01 campaign. He was tossed from game 1, but after that, actually managed to control his emotions reasonably well.

Wallace had a brilliant series and a great first 3 quarters of this game. His mobility as a big was critical to the Blazers double-teaming scheme. He, along with Pippen, did a great job helping and recovering out to shooters.. As good as he was, his overall performance is all but forgotten due to his struggles in the all important final period.

Steve Javie had two really poor calls that helped the Lakers creep back into the game before the end of the first half. Bonzi Wells drove past Kobe and got called for a charge, even though Glen Rice didn’t take the hit to the chest or fall over from the contact. The next one was a legal hesitation dribble that Smith used to get around Shaq and get an easy lay-in. Javie called it a palming violation and Smith was rightfully incredulous.

Shaq got his first couple of buckets later in the second quarter. With how quick the doubles came from the Blazers, O’Neal had to work even harder to get quality initial post position, enabling him to turn and shoot before the second defender arrived. Kobe played a good defensive first half. He blocked shots, and made post ups difficult by either reaching in and poking the ball away or bodying up and contesting.

The Blazers 10 point lead was cut to just 3 at the half, 42-39. The third quarter was dominated by Portland. They continued to feed Rasheed on the block, and Smith had three straight buckets, one of which was a baseline fade-away, and the other two on pick-and-roll plays pulling up in front of O’Neal. They went with the big lineup with no point guard, and Bonzi made an impact scoring over Kobe on one possession, then drawing a double team which set up the play of the game for Portland, one that featured a beautiful skip pass from Sabonis, and a lob from Pippen to Rasheed for the slam.

Smith hit another three when Harper chose to go under the screen at the top of the key. The Blazers built as much as a 16 point lead in the 3rd, but Brian Shaw banked in a three from the wing with 4.5 seconds left in the quarter to trim the deficit to 13. Despite Portland being in a good position, one thing that was noticeable was that Dunleavy kept the likes of Pippen, Smith, and Sabonis in for basically the entire period, with Stoudemire and Wallace being the exceptions.

Dunleavy still had Pippen and Smith in to start the 4th quarter. With a double digit lead, there was an opportunity to give those guys a breather, especially considering the amount of energy they expended in the 3rd quarter to build the advantage. He opted to leave them in, and neither of them were able to provide anything on the offensive end in the final quarter.

With Portland up 75-66 with 8:39 to play, another terrible call is made, this time on Sabonis. Shaq caught the ball with Sabonis behind him, and turned over his left shoulder and clearly hooked the Lithuanian to create contact. Hugh Evans called the foul on Arvydas, which happened to be his 5th personal, and forced him out of the game.

The one key guy that Dunleavy did rest in the second half, Wallace, returned to the game, but was ice cold. He got the same high quality looks he got all series, and just missed them. The Blazers kept feeding him the ball because he was the only option they had, especially with Smith and Pippen exhausted.

Wallace not only failed to produce offense for the Blazers when they needed it, but he didn’t box out Robert Horry on a critical possession, conceding an offensive rebound, then stood and watched as Horry dribbled the ball back out to the three-point line and drilled a shot from downtown to cut the Blazers lead to 75-70 with 7:00 minutes to play.

The Blazers missed 13 shots in a row (the last one was a 5 foot bank attempt from Wallace that missed to the left of the rim). Brian Shaw hit a three to tie the game at 75, and capped a 15-0 run for the Lakers. Wallace finally ended the run after being the recipient of a high-low pass from Sabonis. On the following possession, Sabonis fouled out trying to stop Shaq on the block (Shaq hit both free throws). The Blazers had to go the rest of the game with no good options to defend O’Neal and never led again.

You probably know the rest, Shaq scored over Grant, Kobe had back-to-back possessions that included an isolation 20 foot jumper over Pippen, then a crossover on Scottie to draw the defense and free up the lob to Shaq for the exclamation point.

With Portland down 86-82, Smith drove and got absolutely clobbered by Shaq. No call was made. That capped off a terrible night for the officiating crew. It’s unlikely that would’ve changed the result, but any flicker of hope the Blazers may have had was extinguished.

The Lakers won the game, 89-84, and took the series 4 games to 3, and went on to win the NBA Championship over the Indiana Pacers, 4 games to 2. The Western Conference Finals was the real championship decider, and the Blazers came oh so close. They lost both of the close games in the series (3 and 7) and got the short end of the whistle in game 7. Given the age of the roster, that was Portland’s one and only chance with that group. They got swept by the Lakers the following season after trading the likes of Brian Grant and Jermaine O’Neal and losing Bonzi Wells to injury.

Other Notes:

Bob Costas had an all-time terrible take in this series. “If he (Shaq) was 6’1, 190, instead of 7’1, 325, I think he could still play, and play well in the league.”

While most of the bad calls in game 7 favoured the Lakers, there was a goaltending call on Shaq defending a Wallace turnaround that appeared to be a clean block. Given that was near the end of the game, I’m sure if the result went the other way, that would be something Lakers fans would bring up.

Pippen elbowed Glen Rice in the head out of frustration at the end of game 4. He was fined, but not suspended. He would likely have been suspended at least one game had that incident occurred nowadays with the NBA’s strict enforcement of violent altercations.

Kobe had an impressive stat line in game 6, putting up 33 points and hitting 6 of 9 threes (although 4 of his triples came in garbage time). He also had a monster right-hand slam over Sabonis at the start of the second quarter.

Shaq picked up his 3rd foul during the second quarter of game 7. On the telecast you can hear Dunleavy imploring his team to attack him and “Do everything you can to draw Shaq’s 4th.” Foul hunting is never a good idea, and it usually leads to stagnant offense.

For as good of a scorer as Steve Smith was, he wasn’t the most intelligent passer. He had multiple plays in the series where it appeared he had blinders on and got blocked by Shaq when the pass to Sabonis was wide open.

I remember trying to emulate Damon Stoudemire’s free throw routine as a kid. The elaborate 5 dribbles, with knee bends in between, is still such a cool, unique motion.

Can I just say, there is nothing worse than the NBA scheduling an important game 7 in the afternoon. That’s not a time guys are typically used to playing, and it greatly reduces the recovery time for players. With game 6 played in the evening and travel thrown in, that’s basically the equivalent of scheduling a back-to-back in the postseason.

Kobe had a gorgeous right-to-left spin through a double team and nailed an 8 foot leaner in the closing stages of game 3.

Sabonis had some beautiful passes throughout the series: Wrap-arounds, passes disguised as shot attempts, lobs, high-low entries. While his counting stats were not impressive, he impacted the game in so many positive ways.

Shaq had an uncanny ability to spin off his defender to free himself for a lob. He had one in game 5 where he called for the ball to be passed into the corner to open up the passing angle.

Pippen played all 82 games in the 1999-00 season and looked much healthier in these playoffs than he did in his final season with the Bulls. He had several wow moments athletically in the series, including a monster left-hand slam in game 3.

Dunleavy loved the cross-screening action to get Wallace the ball on the left block. They ran a counter to that where Wallace would get the screen and instead of posting up, he would run and set a ball screen on the left wing.

Wallace suffered an ankle injury in the middle of the 3rd quarter of game 3. He was 20-34 from the field in the 2+ games prior to the injury. Pippen dislocated the ring finger on his left hand in the first quarter of game 5.

Brian Grant was a good player. Dunleavy mostly opted to use him sparingly as a backup center, but the lineups with him at the power forward spot were effective. The Blazers had a 115 offensive rating and a 107 defensive rating with him on the floor, one of the better marks on the team. He should have played substantially more than 16.5 minutes per game.

Shaq put up 41 points in game 1 in what was the most blatant use of the “Hack-a-Shaq” in the series. O’Neal attempted 27 free throws and made 13. The Blazers went to it after surrendering an 18-2 run in the second quarter and were trailing by 21 at the half. I find it puzzling they didn’t consider that strategy in game 7.

Next. Three trades to make the Portland Trail Blazers a true contender. dark

Brian Shaw was a +22 in just 16 minutes played in game 7.

Rasheed hit a sweeping hook near the end of game 5. It can’t be overstated just how talented he was as a player.

Jermaine O’Neale didn’t play much in the series, but actually held his own in the few moments he did get out there. He had an impressive block on a Bryant jump-shot in game 7 that was a sign of things to come. It’s unfortunate the Blazers basically dumped him in a trade to acquire an aging Dale Davis.