Pacers 120, Lakers 87

Saturday, June 17th 2000, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — On the night they could have been crowned champions, the Los Angeles Lakers had their most lopsided loss of the season.

Dawn of a new dynasty? Hah!

Not in Indiana's house. Not when the Pacers were shooting like they were in their own back yard.

Led by Jalen Rose, the Pacers took control early and never let up, keeping the Lakers' championship plans on hold. Starting 6-for-6 on 3-pointers and making 75 percent of their shots in the first quarter, Indiana manhandled Los Angeles 120-87 Friday night in Game 5 of the NBA Finals.

This was the night when the coaching career of Larry Bird could have come to an end, the night when the Lakers finished off their coronation. But just a few minutes in, it was immediately clear that there would be no finality coming out of these finals just yet.

The Pacers were simply not ready to quit, not even close.

``We're a team that plays better when our backs are against the wall, and 3-1 was a big wall,'' said Rose, who went 12-for-18 and scored 32 points. ``We just need to take it one game at a time and see if we can get this thing done.''

Indiana ran its offense to perfection, creating open shots that almost never missed. The outburst hit the Lakers like a sucker punch to the gut, knocking the wind, energy and smarts out them before they knew what hit them.

``We have absolutely nothing to lose and everything to gain,'' said Reggie Miller, who scored 25 points. ``We just need to let it all hang out. We've got a long way to go.''

A four-point play by Miller turned a five-point lead into a nine-point lead just seven minutes in, and three 3-pointers by Rose helped the Pacers score 39 points in the first quarter — their best of the postseason.

The lead was 19 at halftime, shrunk to 13 in the third and then grew to 25 early in the fourth as Miller stood at the line and sank four straight foul shots — three for being fouled on a 3-pointer and one for a technical foul on Derek Fisher.

Indiana, which shot 57 percent from the field, led by as many as 33.

From there, it was only a matter of running out the clock and getting ready for the series to continue.

Indiana trails 3-2 in the best-of-seven series. Game 6 will be Monday night at Los Angeles and Game 7, if necessary, will be Wednesday.

``We had to make a statement from the beginning that we were not going to roll over. We wanted to go back to California,'' Indiana guard Mark Jackson said.

Pacers forward Austin Croshere said his team was ``going to leave everything on the court.''

``If this was going to be our last game we were going to give it everything we had,'' he said.

Shaquille O'Neal led Los Angeles with 35 points and 11 rebounds, but no one else did much of anything positive. Worst of the bunch was Kobe Bryant, who followed up his Game 4 theatrics and a day of Michael Jordan comparisons with an abysmal 4-for-20 performance.

Instead of looking for his shots within the offense and letting O'Neal carry the load, Bryant too often tried to freelance and take over the game by himself.

``Kobe was game for it, but he just didn't find the rhythm out there to play with,'' Lakers coach Phil Jackson said.

Jackson had lauded Bryant before the game, saying he's ``probably a better player at 21 than Michael was at 21.''

But Bryant was a model of immaturity this time, and the result was an array of off-balance clankers, twisting misses and puzzled looks from his teammates.

No team has ever come back from a 3-1 deficit in the finals, but the Pacers look to be a strong candidate to be the first.

They still need to win two straight in Los Angeles — making it three straight overall — against a team that hasn't lost more than two in a row all season. But if they can shoot as well as they did Friday and take the Lakers out of their game plan early, who knows?

``We knew this was going to be a difficult game,'' coach Jackson said. ``We shot 45 percent in the first half, they shot 61. Their shooting really had us in a quandary, and in the second half they beat us on the boards and got to the line.

``We're still in the driver's seat; we're not in a situation where we need to panic. We need to play with more energy and in control. We need precision and execution.''

Before the game, Jackson said he found it a ``mystery'' as to how to keep his team from being overconfident.

``There's a natural excitement that you can feel about this team,'' he said.

Just a couple of hours later, that mood had turned to frustration.

The Pacers wanted to get off to a fast start to avoid having to play from behind, and they couldn't have started much better.

Shooting 15-for-20 in the first quarter, Indiana led 39-28 after 12 minutes.

Miller and Rose scored 11 apiece, although the Lakers shot 52 percent themselves to stay within striking distance.

O'Neal took a two-minute rest early in the second, and Indiana seized upon his absence to begin a 7-2 run ending with a 3-pointer by Rose for a 46-32 lead.

Travis Best hit back-to-back jumpers and Rose reached 22 points on a fastbreak dunk and a reverse layup for a 54-35 lead, which Rose followed with a nifty defensive play as he swiped the ball out of Ron Harper's hands on a breakaway.

``I understand we have what it takes to beat L.A., but it does nothing to talk about it,'' Rose said. ``I was going to shut up and play.''

Indiana's lead reached 20 late in the quarter, and it was 64-45 at the half as Rose had 22 and Miller 18.

The Pacers went up by 21 early in the third before the Lakers made their run, pulling within 13 on a driving layup by A.C. Green. That, however, would be as close as they would get.

Bryant picked up his fourth foul in the middle of an ensuing 10-4 run by Indiana, then picked up his fifth with 1:44 left in the quarter. Mark Jackson hit both foul shots for an 84-65 lead, and Indiana's advantage stayed at 19 heading into the fourth.

``It was a great win,'' Rose said. ``Had they beaten us by 33, we would have been written off. So we'll see what happens. They're still in control, we're still the team that has fire.

``We know California will be ready to celebrate. We heard about the parade, but it won't be tomorrow.''

Notes: Best, who was questionable with a bruised shoulder, showed no ill effects as he played 10 minutes and scored 5 points and added three assists. ... O'Neal shot 1-for-6 at the free throw line, lowering his accuracy rate in this series to 41 percent. ... Chris Mullin and Zan Tabak of Indiana and Devean George and John Salley of the Lakers scored their first points of the series during extensive garbage time. ... The Lakers previous worst loss was by 29 in Game 2 of the Western Conference finals against Portland.