LOS ANGELES (AP) -- The Los Angeles Lakers are going where everyone expected them to go: the NBA Finals.
The route they took to get there, though, was as tough as it can get -- seven brutal games against Portland in the Western Conference finals, two home losses to the Trail Blazers, and a finale that featured one of the greatest fourth-quarter playoff comebacks of all time.
''It takes a lot of character,'' said Lakers guard Brian Shaw, one of the game's heroes. ''This shows what this team is made of.''
Down by 15 points with just over 15 minutes to play, Los Angeles mounted a 15-0 run and went on to beat the Trail Blazers 89-84 on Sunday night in the biggest fourth-quarter rally ever in a Game 7.
''It took everything we had,'' forward Glen Rice said. ''We were down 15 and time was running out. The big thing was we didn't panic.''
Los Angeles advances to the NBA Finals for the first time since 1991, with Game 1 on Wednesday against the Indiana Pacers in the Staples Center. The Lakers will be hard-pressed to top this one, though.
''Game 7s are very interesting, but I've never seen any quite like that one before,'' Lakers coach Phil Jackson said.
Shaquille O'Neal, rendered ineffective most of the game by Portland's double- and triple-teaming defense, scored nine points in the fourth quarter, punctuating the rally with a thundering dunk on a lob pass from Bryant that put Los Angeles ahead 85-79 with 40 seconds to play.
The usually unemotional O'Neal waved his index fingers at the crowd with an amazed expression on his face as he ran downcourt.
''They were playing their best ball the whole game and we were just scratching and clawing,'' O'Neal said. ''The Blazers are a fabulous team and this is probably a rivalry that's going to last throughout my entire career.''
O'Neal had 18 points and nine rebounds and was 8-of-12 from the line, including two that tied it at 77 with 2:44 to play.
When Portland built a 16-point lead in the third quarter, a disgusted Jackson called timeout.
The former Chicago coach, hired to transform this collection of talent into a championship team, let his players have it.
''I got in their faces,'' Jackson said, ''and they responded very well,''
O'Neal had something to say, too.
''Phil made a couple of comments and I pulled the guys together and said, 'We have come too far to blow it so let's fight, let's claw, let's hit shots.'''
Kobe Bryant, the other half of the superstar tandem that is supposed to lead this franchise back to its historic greatness, had 25 points, 11 rebounds, seven assists and four blocked shots. He made just six of 12 free throws, but he sank two from the line to put the Lakers ahead for good, 81-79, with 1:34 remaining.
Lakers 89, Trail Blazers 84
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