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Backbreaker

Lakers' late rally puts stunned Nets in 0-3 series hole

Posted: Sunday June 09, 2002 9:20 PM
Updated: Monday June 10, 2002 5:50 AM
  Todd MacCulloch, Kobe Bryant, Kerry Kittles Kobe Bryant helped the Lakers put the Nets in a 3-0 hole. AP

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. (AP) -- A third consecutive title is a near-certainty for the Los Angeles Lakers. The only question is not if, but when.

Just when it looked as if Jason Kidd might make the NBA Finals competitive, the league's latest dynasty moved within one victory of winning it all. And this time, it wasn't just Shaquille O'Neal doing the damage.

Kobe Bryant had his first brilliant offensive game of the series, Robert Horry hit another clutch 3-pointer to put Los Angeles ahead for good, and O'Neal scored 35 points Sunday night as the Lakers beat the New Jersey Nets 106-103 in Game 3.

With a win Wednesday night in Game 4, the Lakers would become the first team in franchise history to sweep the NBA Finals -- no small accomplishment for a team with 13 titles.

"It feels great whenever you have a chance to make history. As a team we've been through so much, and hopefully we can add to our list of accomplishments," Bryant said.

This was the closest and most entertaining game of the Finals, and in the end the Lakers showed the stuff champions are made of.

 
LAKERS 106, NETS 103
Fast Breaks 
  
CNNSI.com's Jennifer Cooper looks at the storylines in Game 3. 
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Recap | Game Summary
Burns: Kobe's brand of Showtime
L.A. one win away from three-peat
Nets can't hold second-half lead
Notebook: Shaq is that good  
Pregame 
Burns: Nets need 'mob' mentality
Notebook: Nets glad to be home
Ten reasons Nets can still win
Lakers' defense making difference
 
NBA Finals Game 3
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* Phil Jackson, Shaq, Kobe and Rick Fox consider whether the Lakers will be able to sweep. Start

* Shaq explains his incentive, and Byron Scott proposes a formula for stopping Shaq.
* Byron Scott and the Nets try not to focus on the blown opportunity.
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When it came time for clutch baskets, big blocked shots and key free throws, the two-time defending champs had enough of each to take a 3-0 lead in the best-of-seven series.

No team has ever recovered from such a deficit to win an NBA playoff series, and don't expect to see it from the Nets -- even though they managed to play a competitive game for the first time in the series.

"I don't think there is a team that can do that," Bryant said. "We're a confident team, and we're playing really well together."

The Nets played well together, too. Even that wasn't good enough.

Kidd was outstanding, leading the Nets on a 19-5 run that gave them their biggest lead at any point in the series -- seven points midway through the fourth.

But it was Bryant who made the bigger plays down the stretch -- none more important than his 10-foot jumper over Kidd with 19.1 seconds left for a 104-100 lead. Bryant was double-teamed on the shot, and Kidd even got a hand on the ball before Bryant broke free, turned to his right and hit the bucket.

"It was one of the toughest" clutch shots of his career, Bryant said. "It was a matter of just wanting it. I didn't want to lose possession of the basketball and didn't want to let my teammates down."

Kidd knocked down a 3-pointer with 5.2 seconds to cut it to 104-103, and the Nets fouled Rick Fox with 3.5 seconds left. He made both, and Kidd was off-target after dribbling upcourt and launching a 30-footer just before the buzzer.

Bryant had 36 points, shooting 14-for-23 and scoring a dozen points in the fourth quarter.

"I wanted it. I wanted it; it's game time. I wasn't going to let them take it from me," Bryant said. "We're battle-tested. That's what I kept telling the fellas in timeouts."

 
Local Look
As the series shifted to Continental Airlines Arena, a short drive from his native Newark, Shaquille O'Neal prepared for something of a family reunion.

His mother's side of the family resides there. So do the the relatives of O'Neal's stepfather, Philip Harrison.

The L.A. Daily News reports that the Shaq Paq was large, indeed. O'Neal said he expected 80 to 85 members of his extended family to attend Game 3 and Game 4 on Wednesday. (The way the Lakers are playing, Friday's scheduled Game 5 appears unnecessary.) 
 

O'Neal was 12-for-19 from the field with 11 rebounds, Derek Fisher scored 13 points while going 3-for-3 from 3-point range, and Horry and Fox came through at the end.

Lakers coach Phil Jackson tied Pat Riley for the most career playoff victories -- 155. It took Jackson only 209 games to tie the mark, a winning percentage of .741 compared with Riley's .608.

Kidd had 30 points and Kenyon Martin scored 26 for the Nets, who knew that their best chance for keeping their title hopes alive rested on them winning this game.

"We did all we could, man. We've got to tip our hats off to them," Martin said. "We played our hearts out. We're very deflated. To have it slip away in the last two minutes was hard."

The Nets now need to win four in a row against a team that has only allowed them to have one single glimmer of hope through the first three games.

Kidd provided it, but it wasn't enough.

After Bryant put several nifty moves on Kerry Kittles and made a short jumper for a 73-63 lead, Kidd began taking over.

He scored seven points over the next 1:13, then hit a jumper with 51 seconds left before feeding Richard Jefferson for a dunk. Martin scored on a drive with 1.8 seconds left, tying the game at 78-all.

Kidd opened the fourth quarter with a jumper, then pulled off his sweetest move of the night -- starting and stopping and darting through four defenders for a floater. Jefferson followed with a fast-break layup off a pass from Kidd to put the Nets up 86-80, completing the 19-5 run.

The Nets maintained the lead -- they were up as much as 94-87 -- until Horry hit a 3-pointer off a pass from O'Neal with 3:03 left. Kidd fired up a quick 3-point attempt that missed, and Bryant knocked down a 22-footer with 1 second on the shot clock for a 100-96 lead with 2:17 remaining.

Kidd answered with a jumper, but O'Neal banked in a 10-footer from a tough angle to restore a four-point lead, 102-98 with 58 seconds left.

Bryant missed two from the line with 42 seconds left -- it was his only negative moment of the night -- and Keith Van Horn hit a corner jumper to cut it to 102-100.

That's when Bryant hit the crucial basket -- one that was so tough to make, and so deflating for New Jersey, that it may just have won the series for the Lakers.

"We've been together too long to fold," O'Neal said.

After trailing 31-23 after one quarter, the Nets got some help from the referees to crawl back into it by halftime.

Jackson was irate when O'Neal was called for a questionable goaltending violation, and Horry was aghast when referee Bob Delaney whistled him for a technical as he skipped downcourt when he was called for his third personal.

Official Dick Bavetta called Fox for a highly debatable flagrant foul on Martin, helping the Nets pull to 46-42.

Notes: There have been only six four-game sweeps in NBA Finals history. ... Lucious Harris ditched the face mask he had been wearing since the midpoint of the regular season. After going 1-for-15 from the field in Games 1 and 2, he was 1-for-5 without it. ... The Nets lost for the first time in the postseason when scoring 100 points. They had been 6-0. ... Kidd's career record against the Lakers dropped to 6-20.

 
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