Honey, I shrunk the Blazers Small lineup has large role in Portland's Game 4 win


PORTLAND, Ore. -- Think small. It might just pay big dividends, as it did for Rick Adelman and his Portland Trail Blazers, who rallied to beat the Chicago Bulls in Game 4 on Wednesday night and tie the NBA Finals, 2-2.

The Blazers are in position to take the series lead at home tonight, which would force the Bulls to win the last two games at home to retain their title.

Downsizing his team was the unorthodox strategy Adelman adopted, almost out of desperation, early the fourth quarter Wednesday night with Portland trailing 73-66 and on the verge of going down 3-1 in the best-of-seven series.

"Until then, the Bulls were controlling the tempo and doing pretty much what they wanted to do," said Adelman. "We wanted to give them a different look."

At the start of the last quarter, Kevin Duckworth, the 7-foot starting center, was already on the Blazers' bench, and soon would be joined by power forward Buck Williams, as Adelman chose to go with a quicker lineup that included three guards -- Clyde Drexler, Terry Porter and Danny Ainge, plus forwards Cliff Robinson and Jerome Kersey.

"When we have Clyde, Terry and Danny out on the floor at the same time, it's our best ball-handling and shooting team," Adelman said. "If we can get the rebounds with those three guards on the floor, it gives us some good matchups."

Ostensibly, Robinson filled the role of center while Ainge defended Bulls small forward Scottie Pippen.

The Bulls could not capitalize on their height advantage inside, got out-rebounded and out-hustled and eventually overtaken by the Blazers, 93-88.

With his small lineup, Adelman said, the Blazersenjoyed an advantage on both ends of the floor.

"On offense, we were moving the ball, and our players were moving, too," he said. "Our quickness up front allowed us to go to the boards and grab some offensive rebounds. And we were much more active defensively, shutting down Michael Jordan's penetration to the basket."

All five Blazers on the floor in the last 10 minutes seemed to benefit, especially Kersey, who scored 10 of his 21 points in the last quarter.

"We needed our quickness on the floor at that point in the game," Kersey said. "Earlier, the Bulls had done a good job of doubling down on Duckworth in the low post. We had to open things up.

"With Porter and Ainge out there, the Bulls can't afford to leave them open for jumpers to double down inside. That opens things up for me and Cliff. Basically, we've got five shooters on the floor."

The Bulls never did make the necessary adjustments. Offensively, the Blazers penetrated to the basket almost at will. Six of their last seven field goals came on layups.

And Chicago managed only two baskets -- both by John Paxson -- in the last 4:48. Robinson covered up for his teammates and rejecting a layup attempt by Horace Grant, who was held to two points in the second half.

"If Robinson is playing well," said Jackson, "he gives Portland a totally different look, because he can fill in at center or either forward position."

But Grant said: "This whole series has been played like a chess match. If they go small again, we've got the athletes to make it blow up in their face."

Several of the Bulls seemed to be pointing the finger at Pippen, 6-7, for failing to take advantage of his matchup with the smaller (6-5), slower Ainge.

"We have to exploit the weakness in that Blazer lineup by posting up Pippen against Ainge," said Paxson. "We tried it, but it didn't work."

Jordan tried to salvage the game himself, but he missed two short jumpers and was stripped of the ball by Drexler, whose ensuing layup put the Blazers into the lead.

"What went wrong," said Jackson, "is that we again started to rely too much on Michael Jordan to bail us out. But, by the fourth quarter, he didn't have enough energy left to carry us."

Jordan finished with a game-high 32 points, but when the Bulls' offense began to sputter in the last quarter, he could be seen upbraiding some of his teammates.

"We lost our concentration and focus," he said, "and I was trying to . . . get us back in the game."

Jordan might be running out of gas after carrying the Bulls' offense in the playoffs. In the finals, he has averaged more than 42 minutes, and also had to extend himself defensively in guarding Drexler.

Dick Versace, the former Indiana Pacers coach and now a television analyst, said: "I just think Michael is very tired.

"He has just played too much ball over the last two years, and by the time he's finished with the Olympics next month, he'll probably be walking in his sleep."

Copyright © 2021, The Baltimore Sun, a Baltimore Sun Media Group publication | Place an Ad