Lakers 105, Trail Blazers 104, 2OT
They showed it Wednesday night in the regular-season finale when Kobe Bryant’s 3-pointer at the end of double overtime gave the Lakers a 105-104 victory over the Portland Trail Blazers, and, more importantly, the Pacific Division title.
Los Angeles finished as the second seed in the Western Conference and will face Houston in the opening round of the playoffs.
“We’re ready. We know what we have to do,” O’Neal said. “We know what we are striving for. And we know we want to be the team to win 16 games.”
Bryant ducked out of the locker room without speaking to reporters. He had been dogged in recent days by suggestions of poor shot selection—and then that he deliberately didn’t take shots in a key loss to Sacramento.
The Lakers began the night tied with the Kings atop the Pacific Division. When the Kings lost 97-91 to Golden State, the Lakers had their opening.
Damon Stoudamire’s jumper with 31.6 seconds left in the second overtime tied it at 102, and he raced downcourt for a layup with 2.2 seconds left to give Portland the lead.
The Lakers inbounded from midcourt on the final play, and Bryant popped free near the 3-point line. He caught Gary Payton’s inbounds pass, shot—and swished—before racing downcourt in celebration.
“It was a great shot by the young fellow,” O’Neal said. “He told us, `Set me a good pick and we’re going home with a win.’ That’s the sign of a great player, a great, confident shot.”
Bryant finished with 37 points and eight rebounds.
As impressive as his final shot was, it was nothing compared to the one at the end of the fourth quarter. Bryant, tightly defended by Ruben Patterson, twisted and turned to get himself enough room to launch an off-balance fling as he fell to his right.
Seconds earlier, Patterson missed two free throws that would have iced the win.
Afterward, Bryant gave Patterson an autographed pair of his shoes.
“Yeah, I asked for his shoes,” Patterson said. “I said, `You’ve got to give me your shoes for that one.’ “
The Lakers trailed by as many as 10 points before rallying in the fourth quarter behind Bryant, whose 3-pointer with 3:21 left gave Los Angeles its first lead, 82-81.
After Derek Anderson hit two jumpers to make it 87-84 for the Blazers, Bryant missed a pair of free throws with 55.7 seconds left.
Patterson blew a dunk with 8.9 seconds left, but was fouled by Bryant—then buried his head in his hands after he missed both shots.
The Lakers had exactly 8 seconds left to close the gap, and Bryant delivered. He had 12 points in the fourth quarter alone.
After the Lakers went up 93-89, Zach Randolph gave the Blazers back the lead at 95-93 with 47.9 seconds left. O’Neal’s dunk sent the game into a second OT.
The Lakers rallied without forward Karl Malone, who sprained his right ankle late in the first half and did not return. The extent of the injury was not known.
“I wouldn’t begin to tell you what grade it is,” Lakers coach Phil Jackson said about the sprain. “It’s not a minor one, it’s not a major one.”
The Blazers were led by Randolph’s 21 points and 18 rebounds.
“It hurt, man,” Patterson said. “But it’s done. You can’t do anything about it.”
Portland was eliminated from the playoffs for the first time in 22 seasons Monday night. Trail Blazers coach Maurice Cheeks made liberal use of his bench against the Lakers, playing rookie Travis Outlaw for just the eighth time this season.
Bryant, who had just eight points in Sunday’s 102-85 loss at Sacramento, had a season-high 45 points against the Warriors on Tuesday night.
There was speculation Bryant’s lack of shooting against the Kings was a statement, but he later insisted that wasn’t the case.
O’Neal, who left the Rose Garden in a fedora, finished with 25 points and 14 rebounds, but fouled out in the second overtime. He also hit just one of his eight free throws.
“If I would have done some things, we would have gone home earlier, so I’m ticked at myself,” O’Neal said. “Good thing about having a courageous little brother. He always has my back.”
The Blazers replaced Outlaw on the injured list with guard Eddie Gill. Outlaw had been on the injured list with tendinitis in his knees since Feb. 4. … The Lakers did not arrive in Portland until about noon Wednesday after having mechanical trouble with their charter flight Tuesday night. Rather than waiting until the wee hours of the morning for the problem to be fixed, “Ijust sent them home,” coach Phil Jackson said.