Harper Simply Perfect in Crucial Cameo Role

TIMES STAFF WRITER

During the early rounds of the playoffs, Ron Harper's main role with the Lakers was as the wise old veteran who gave advice whenever called upon. That's because when it came to playing time, Harper's was all but nonexistent.

Nevertheless, when Coach Phil Jackson called on Harper early in the second quarter of Wednesday's Game 4 of the NBA Finals at First Union Center, he was ready.

"You never know when Phil is going to call your name," said Harper, who has played under Jackson for two seasons with the Lakers and won three NBA titles playing for him as a Chicago Bull. "The main thing is to go out and be prepared and that's all I know how to do. You have to be pros."

All Harper, who missed most of the last two months of the season following surgery to his left knee, did was step up and score eight points in seven second-quarter minutes, including a scoop shot for a three-point play and a key three-point basket.

"I haven't played in 17 ballgames so they were like, 'Who is this guy?,' " Harper said when asked how he was left open so much by the 76ers. "They probably said, 'There's a a fan out there playing'. They thought I was a fan but now they know."

To the Lakers, Harper's ability to step up when the lights are on is nothing new. In Game 2 at Staples Center, it was Harper who made a key basket down the stretch to help the Lakers even the series at 1-1.

"Harper is amazing," teammate Kobe Bryant said. "On one leg, he goes in there and gets these sneaky baskets. You know what I mean? He seems to always be in the right place at the right time all the time.

"He played huge for us. He hit a big three, got a big and-one for us. He was really key tonight."

The last time Harper scored more than seven points was Feb. 7 but he didn't look like a rusty player when he replaced Brian Shaw with 7:02 remaining in the second quarter and the Lakers holding a 30-24 lead.

Harper got things going when he gathered in a pass from Bryant for a layup. Then moments later, he took a pass from O'Neal and scored a reverse layup for a three-point play. Then by the time he sank a three-pointer, the Lakers' lead was 40-24.

Harper ended up playing the rest of the quarter and he played a major role in the Lakers' 51-37 halftime lead.

"Harper is Harp," guard Tyronn Lue said. "He is a veteran who knows how to come in and play solid and be poised. It doesn't matter with him. He can sit out a whole year and then come in and know how to make big plays. He knows how to get open and he knows how to do the little things to help a team win."

Harper said his philosophy is pretty simple. It's why he has lasted 16 seasons in the NBA and why he's one win away from his fifth championship ring.

"The main thing is to go in every day and just do what you can," Harper said. "If you go out and play basketball, the game is easy. Who cares about [how bad the Lakers played during the regular season], this is the main part. This is the only thing that means anything. We are here now and we've come a long, long way to get to this point."

And Harper and the rest of the Lakers' bench can take pride in their effort against the 76ers. It wasn't too long ago when the reserves were considered a weak link. But not any more. Shaw, Lue, Robert Horry and now Harper have all broken the hearts of Philadelphia fans.

Which is just the way Harper likes it.

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