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Ralph Sampson said Friday that he was provoked into...

By RICHARD LUNA, UPI Sports Writer

HOUSTON -- Ralph Sampson said Friday that he was provoked into throwing the punches that resulted in his ejection from Game 5 of the NBA Championship series and vowed to stay in Game 6 until the end.

Houston rallied after the ejection of the 7-foot-4 Sampson to score a 111-96 victory over the Boston Celtics Thursday night and stay alive in the best-of-seven series. The Rockets trail 3-2 going into Sunday's game in Boston.

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'I was provoked,' Sampson said at practice Friday. 'It was in the excitement of the game. I'm sorry it happened. Fighting is a thing where you protect yourself. Nobody likes to do it. I know that I didn't want to be watching the game. I'd rather have played.

'I'm not looking to fight in Boston. I will stay in the game this time. The only way to get me out is to call six fouls on me.'

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The brawl occurred with Houston leading 34-33 with under 10 minutes left in the second quarter. After some pushing under the basket, Sampson threw several punches at Celtics guard Jerry Sichting and one at Dennis Johnson. Boston's Bill Walton tackled Sampson and the benches emptied. When order was restored, Sampson was ejected.

It marked the third time in the playoffs that one of Houston's 'Twin Towers' were ejected, and the Rockets won all three games.

Center Akeem Olajuwon was thrown out of Game 6 of the Western Conference semfinal against Denver and Game 5 of the conference final against the Los Angeles Lakers for his involvement in fights.

'When our backs are against the wall, this team has always come through,' said reserve forward Jim Petersen, who played most of Thursday's game in place of Sampson. 'There have been a lot of mishaps all season. Ralph and Akeem have been injured and we lost John Lucas. In the long run, it's made us a stronger team.'

Petersen, often referred to as Houston's 'Third Tower,' grabbed 12 rebounds to help fill the void left by Sampson. Olajuwon also picked up slack with 32 points, 14 rebounds and 8 blocked shots. His eight blocks tied an NBA final record.

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'There was a lot of emotion,' Rockets guard Robert Reid said. 'We lost 25 points when Ralph walked off the court. I went to each (Rocket) and said, 'We need you. Let's do it.' Everybody pitched in to help the cause. It was beautiful.'

Rockets Coach Bill Fitch said the fight occurred in the heat of the moment.

'Every fight I've seen in the NBA has been spontaneous,' he said. 'The only way you win a fight in a basketball game is on the scoreboard. Our goal in Boston is no matter what happens, we've got to get down to basic basketball. We'll be ready to take their best shot on Sunday.'

Thursday's game was indeed physical from the start.

'Before the fight, there were some fouls that should have been called that weren't,' Olajuwon said. 'When people foul you and the fouls don't get called, that's what happens.'

Petersen said: 'Maybe this is the way to go at it. If we have to play physical to win, we will.'

Oajuwon said the Rockets are more confident now but are still in a tough situation.

'We have no other choice but to win,' Olajuwon said of Sunday's game. 'There is no alternative. Now we know we can beat Boston for the championship. We just have to prove it to people.'

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