The San Antonio Spurs continued their roll through the NBA playoffs today, sweeping the Western Conference finals with a 94-80 victory over the Portland Trail Blazers before 20,735 at the Rose Garden.
San Antonio, which has won 10 consecutive postseason games, is the first former American Basketball Association team to advance to the NBA Finals. This also is the first time the Spurs, originally the Dallas Chaparrals, have qualified for a championship round, NBA or ABA.
Not even Michael Jordan's six-time league champion Chicago Bulls were able to sweep consecutive best-of-seven playoff series.
The 1989 Lakers were the last to accomplish what David Robinson, Tim Duncan and the Spurs did today. Having won the last two games of their series against Minnesota before eliminating Los Angeles and Portland, the Spurs are one victory short of the record for consecutive playoff wins, held by the 1989 Lakers.
Spurs guard Steve Kerr, a member of the last three Bulls championship teams, said he was "shocked" by the way his team has run through these last two rounds.
"I didn't think there was a chance in the world that we could sweep the Blazers," he said. "I thought the series was a tossup. This team keeps surprising me."
Portland Coach Mike Dunleavy was left to draw only one conclusion after his team lost two home games by a total of 34 points.
"They're just a better team," he said of the Spurs. "They withstood all our runs. When we finally caught them, they made plays and took it back. I sensed that their confidence level is getting higher and higher. They're a well-balanced team with great post play -- two league MVPs in Robinson and Duncan -- and they're well-coached. I think they have a great shot of winning it all."
After falling behind 13-12, the Trail Blazers led for only 19 more seconds -- and that came in the final two minutes of the third quarter. Otherwise, the Spurs dominated play just as they had the previous three games. Robinson had a team-high 20 points and 10 rebounds, and Duncan rebounded from a slow start to score 18 points. Avery Johnson continued his steady play, finishing with 15 points and six assists.
Damon Stoudamire led Portland with 21 points and Rasheed Wallace added 17, but only two in the fourth quarter.
The Spurs used a 16-4 run early in the fourth quarter to turn a 62-61 nail-bitter into a 78-65 rout. Jaren Jackson, the Georgetown and Washington Bullets alum, applied the finishing touches with a pair of three-pointers.
Many of Portland's problems, however, were self-inflicted. As the season wore on, players began complaining about playing time and number of shots, which is sure to undermine any team. Veteran guard Greg Anthony was critical of his team for the second straight day.
"What happens with adversity," he said, "is it tests your character and really brings out the truth. If you have togetherness and cohesion . . . then you'll be in the Spurs' locker room. If you have any other issues then those will dictate and determine your fate. It's no secret that we've had issues and that's so unfortunate because this is such an opportunity . . . to win something that you dream about."
The fans at the Rose Garden, some of the most loyal and knowledgeable in the league, recognized exactly what Anthony was talking about, which is why many booed Portland native Stoudamire (who had complained about playing time) during the pregame introductions.
Portland took an 8-0 lead, but Robinson began asserting himself offensively. Before the Trail Blazers knew what hit them, San Antonio's lead had reached 41-30.
The Spurs had Robinson and Duncan dominating close to the basket, Sean Elliott (16 points) slashing and shooting at will, plus Johnson, Jackson and Kerr hitting timely jumpers when Portland's defense grew preoccupied with Robinson and Duncan.
"We have a lot of guys," Elliott said, "who realize what we can do if we stay together and play as a team."
CAPTION: Blazers' Damon Stoudamire fires a pass over Avery Johnson in Game 4 of Western Conference finals at Rose Garden.
CAPTION: David Robinson, right, is fouled by Rasheed Wallace. Robinson made 8 of 9 free throws and had 20 points.