SAN ANTONIO, May 31 -- The Portland Trail Blazers are going back to Rip City feeling, well, ripped off. The Blazers truly believe they should be bringing back two victories, not just one.
Instead they are taking home none, and now the San Antonio Spurs must think -- probably more than ever -- that this is their year.
The latest episode in San Antonio's increasingly blessed season came on an afternoon that stretched into evening before the Spurs seized their first lead. But once they finally forged one, from 18 points down, the Spurs didn't let go, clinging to an 86-85 victory in Game 2 of the Western Conference finals.
A now-standard overflow crowd of 35,260 at the Alamodome erupted with nine seconds left when Sean Elliott hit an off-balance, three-pointer from the corner to erase Portland's 85-83 advantage. It was the first and only time today that the Spurs had a lead, but it merely capped a brilliant performance by Elliott that included six three-pointers in seven attempts for 22 points.
"That just seems to be the luck that team has," said Blazers point guard Damon Stoudamire, whose missed free throw with 12 seconds remaining enabled Elliott to put the Spurs ahead instead of merely forcing overtime.
"You just don't have an answer when a guy hits a shot like that."
Quipped losing coach Mike Dunleavy: "I've got 100 bucks right now to see him make the same shot again."
It's a shot, and another lost opportunity, Portland will have to relive hundreds of times before hosting Game 3 on Friday. Already awash with feelings of hard luck after losing Saturday's Game 1 by a mere four points, 80-76 -- and three last-minute losses to the Spurs in the regular season -- the Blazers endured the worst tease yet by grabbing nine of the game's first 10 rebounds and bolting to a 52-34 lead.
Even with the dangerous Isaiah Rider limited to six second-half minutes because of a sprained right knee, the Blazers held an 80-72 advantage with 3 minutes 25 seconds to play. And they had that seemingly healthy cushion because Rider's replacement, Jim Jackson, hit a three-pointer and a driving layup on successive trips downcourt after San Antonio had clawed within 73-72.
Portland's lead was still 84-78 with a minute and change left. But Elliott hit a three-pointer from the left side with 59 seconds remaining to cut that margin in half, then won the game in the other corner even though he received the ball on his tippy-toes to avoid stepping out of bounds before he launched it.
"That's my shot, in the corner," Elliott said after his biggest basket in a 10-year career. "I jokingly told the guys in the huddle that I had one more left in the gun. Why not?"
Why not, indeed. With teammates David Robinson and Avery Johnson earning daily praise after years of criticism for their playoff failures, it was probably Elliott's turn to bask in the spotlight, alongside MVP candidate Tim Duncan (23 points, 10 rebounds, 5 blocks).
"This team just finds a way to get it done," said Mario Elie, a big inspiration in San Antonio's 17-2 run in the third quarter to get back in the fray. "The old Sean Elliott would have gone into the fourth quarter with 19 points and ended with 19 points. Not this Sean Elliott."
To preserve Elliott's moment, San Antonio had to weather two last gasps from the Blazers. Jackson attempted a game-winning jumper on the baseline, but his eight-footer was rejected by a Robinson-led trio of Spurs. Walt Williams scooped up the loose ball but missed a difficult bank shot that shoved Portland into an 0-2 hole it arguably doesn't deserve.
Said Elliott: "I'm pretty sure they thought they had this game in the bag. It's got to break their back a little bit. They have to be a little deflated."
CAPTION: David Robinson goes in for two points despite the double-team by Blazers' Kelvin Cato, center, and Stacey Augmon.
CAPTION: Mario Elie has high-five for Sean Elliott, who made 6 of 7 three-pointers to help Spurs take 2-0 lead in Western finals.