NBA PLAYOFFS EASTERN CONFERENCE : Heat Closing In on a History-Making Feat

From Associated Press

Steve Smith scored 25 points and made three free throws in the final 18 seconds to help the Miami Heat defeat the Atlanta Hawks, 90-86, on Tuesday night at Miami in Game 3 of a first-round NBA Eastern Conference playoff series.

The Heat, which leads the series, 2-1, is trying to become the first eighth-seeded team to eliminate a top-seeded team in the NBA playoffs.

It was a cleanly played game, after the Game 2 brawl Saturday. Three players, including Heat starting forward Grant Long, sat out Tuesday’s game while serving suspensions that resulted from the fight.

In the final 76 seconds, Atlanta’s Mookie Blaylock made three three-point shots for his only points of the game. That cut Miami’s 85-77 lead to 87-86 with 19 seconds to play.

But after Smith made two free throws with 18 seconds to play, Blaylock missed a three-point shot. Miami got the rebound and Smith made a clinching free throw with 6.7 seconds remaining.

“So many things went through my mind,” Smith said. “My muscles got tight, but I tried to concentrate and follow through.”

Atlanta’s Kevin Willis, who averaged 19.1 points during the regular season, missed all eight of his shots and scored two points.

John Salley played all 48 minutes and had the primary defensive responsibility for Willis.

“They were coming from the weak side. They were coming over the top. They were coming from the baseline. They were coming from all angles,” Willis said. “It’s tough to see the basket when they’re triple-teaming like that.”

Said Heat Coach Kevin Loughery, “Defensively, we did a sensational job.”

Blaylock made three of 15 shots and is nine of 41 in the series.

Miami’s Rony Seikaly, replacing Long for his first start since March 26, had 20 rebounds and 12 points in only the second playoff game at Miami Arena.

Craig Ehlo scored 20 points for the Hawks, who posted the best record in the Eastern Conference during the regular season. Danny Manning had 16.

Chicago 95, Cleveland 92--Scottie Pippen made the go-ahead basket on a driving left-handed layup with 1:25 to play in overtime at Richfield, Ohio, helping the Bulls complete a three-game sweep of a first-round series.

It’s the fourth consecutive year that the Bulls have swept a first-round series, and each of the previous three started the Bulls toward the NBA championship.

It’s the fifth time in seven years that the Bulls eliminated the Cavaliers.

Pippen struggled against the defense of the Cavaliers’ Chris Mills, but still led the Bulls with 23 points and 11 rebounds. He also had six assists to go with eight turnovers.

Toni Kukoc scored 18 points for the Bulls, who meet the winner of the New Jersey-New York series in the next round.

Mills, a rookie from Arizona and Fairfax High, scored a career-high 25 points and had 10 rebounds.

Mark Price scored 22 points and Tyrone Hill had 15 points and 13 rebounds before fouling out with two minutes to play in overtime of what turned out to be the last game at Richfield Coliseum.

The Cavaliers are moving to an arena adjacent to the Cleveland Indians’ Jacobs Field next season.

The game was tied for the last time at 92-92 when Bobby Phills of the Cavaliers made a layup with 1:49 to play in overtime.

Pippen answered with the basket that put Chicago ahead for good, and after Cleveland’s Gerald Wilkins missed a three-point shot with eight seconds to play, Horace Grant made one of two foul shots for a 95-92 lead.

Wilkins missed another three-point attempt at the buzzer.

“If we had our big guns, I think we would have won the series,” Mills said of the Cavaliers, who played without the injured Brad Daugherty, Larry Nance and Hot Rod Williams. “Tonight, all the guys just gave it their all.”