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Cutting down the Nets

Lakers bring it late, earn third straight NBA title

Posted: Wednesday June 12, 2002 10:00 PM
Updated: Thursday June 13, 2002 8:56 AM
  Kobe Bryant Kobe Bryant came alive during the fourth quarter once again. AP

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. (AP) -- The Los Angeles Lakers are getting used to this championship thing. They certainly looked comfortable winning another one.

With a proficient, businesslike performance, Shaquille O'Neal and the Lakers finished off the New Jersey Nets in four games, winning their third consecutive NBA title Wednesday night with the 113-107 victory.

For all the accomplishments of Lakers teams past, this was the first finals sweep for the franchise, cementing this team's status as one of the greatest in league history.

O'Neal had another dominant night with 34 points and 10 rebounds and Kobe Bryant went back to a supporting role with 25 points. The rest of the Lakers also came through to end the best NBA season for a Nets team that defied all expectations -- except against Los Angeles.

The Lakers made Phil Jackson the winningest coach in NBA postseason history, giving him his 24th consecutive playoff series victory and his ninth title -- tied with Red Auerbach for the record.

"I realize that if it wasn't for Phil, I wouldn't have any championships," O'Neal said. "Hopefully next year we can make him THE greatest ever."

It was the Lakers' 14th title, nine since the team moved from Minneapolis to Los Angeles.

"This is a very good group with their focus. They seem to build strength in a game," Jackson said. "They knew that games aren't won in the first quarter, seasons aren't won in the first month. And they paced themselves very well. They're a very experienced team."

After the final buzzer, the Lakers were subdued in their on-court celebration.

 
LAKERS 113, NETS 107
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NBA Finals Game 4
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* Phil Jackson, Shaquille O'Neal and Kobe Bryant consider the meaning of their third title and speculate about the future. Start

* Byron Scott praises the Nets' run; Kenyon Martin calls out his teammates.
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Of course, they were used to this drill, and the only people in purple whooping it up were several hundred Los Angeles fans in the stands.

Bryant walked over and hugged Nets coach Byron Scott, and moments later raised three fingers, smiling broadly.

O'Neal, who won his third consecutive finals MVP award, sought out Nets guard Jason Kidd and then walked over to embrace his grandfather, who toweled the sweat off O'Neal's face.

"These days are some of the proudest in my life," said O'Neal's grandfather, Donald Harrison. "I've never been so happy as to see this young player grow up to be a man, a very gentle giant. He is good for the game, he is good for the sport, and he is good for all the young people."

Jackson went over to Scott and smiled as the two shook hands at midcourt.

In the locker room, the Lakers jumped up and down shouting variations of the word "three" while dousing each other with champagne.

Jackson passed Pat Riley for the most career postseason victories (156), but the mark that meant the most was tying Auerbach.

"Looks like I'm going to have to get my own cigar out of my briefcase and light it up," Jackson said.

"I dedicated this championship to Red Holtzman, my mentor," Jackson said, referring to his old coach with the New York Knicks.

The Nets all but conceded defeat with 44 seconds left, subbing for Kidd and Kenyon Martin despite trailing by only six points. Bryant made two free throws while the two Nets got a rousing ovation, and 14-year veteran Mitch Richmond hit the final shot of the game -- and his only one of the series.

"Coach called me in the hotel this morning and told me I would play 48 minutes," Richmond said. "I told him no, I thought Kobe was doing a pretty good job."

The Nets played gallantly, trying to salvage some respect in a series that turned out to be a mismatch. But the Lakers had a little too much of everything -- 11 3-pointers, big nights from their two superstars and double-figure contributions from Derek Fisher, Devean George and Robert Horry.

The Lakers' final four games turned out to be nowhere near as competitive as their seven-game victory over Sacramento in the Western Conference finals. Without a buzzer-beating 3-pointer by Horry in Game 4 of that series, the Lakers probably wouldn't have made the finals.

New Jersey, the best team in a weak Eastern Conference, was no match for this Lakers team.

"It's going to be a painful summer, but you learn from your pain," Scott said. "It's going to hurt for a while, but the only way to do something about it is to get better as a player and a person."

O'Neal, who considers nearby Newark his hometown, scored 36, 40 and 35 points in the first three games, finishing the series by going 12-for-20 from the field with four assists and two blocks.

 
Upward Trends
Shaq's averages go up as the season goes along.
Cat.  Reg. Sea.  Playoffs  Finals 
Pts.   27.6  28.2  34.2 
Reb.   12.3  12.7  14.6 
Asts.   2.8  3.2  4.1 
Blks.   2.63  2.25  2.84 
FG%   .577  .560  .595 
Min.   37.8  40.2  44.4  
 

Bryant added eight assists and six rebounds as the Lakers finished off an almost perfect series.

This was the fifth time in NBA history that a team has won three straight titles. It's become almost common since Jackson became a coach, first with the Chicago Bulls and then with the Lakers.

The Michael Jordan-led Bulls won three straight titles twice, 1991-93 and 1996-98. Before that, a team hadn't won three championships in a row since the Boston Celtics (1959-66).

The Nets had little chance against Shaq & Co.

They abandoned the full-court pressure they had used without much success in the first three games and went to a 2-3 zone whenever O'Neal was in the game. But the Lakers kept moving the ball and finding the open man, and the Nets were unable to come up with the clutch shots they needed to make it just a little closer down the stretch.<

Jackson said his team had the right mind-set to finish off the series and not give the Nets any hope, and he couldn't have been any more accurate.

The Lakers never looked nervous throughout the game, displaying the cool confidence that has become their trademark over the past three seasons.

It's a personality trait passed down from Jackson, who taught these Lakers how to be title winners.

"The first ring, when we were on the brink of elimination, he would come in with not a worry in the world," O'Neal recalled. "If the president isn't scared and the general isn't scared, then the troops shouldn't be scared and the people shouldn't be scared. He's a great guy. A great motivator."

None of the Lakers seemed the least bit worried in the early going despite the Nets' good start.

Martin had the highest-scoring quarter of anyone in the series, getting 17 in the first 12 minutes on an assortment of dunks and midrange jumpers. A bank shot high off the glass gave the Nets a 34-23 lead with less than a minute left in the first quarter.

Scott chose to rest Martin and Kidd at the same time to start the second quarter, and by the time both returned the Lakers had tied the game, 41-41.

Fox had eight points in the first six minutes of the third quarter, and the Lakers increased their lead to eight late in the period. If it seemed as if the Nets were all set to fade away, they had different ideas.

New Jersey closed the quarter with a 4-0 run, then got a 3-pointer from Kidd, a three-point play from Lucious Harris and a foul shot from Martin to go ahead 87-84 with 10:05 left.

The game stayed tight for the next several minutes, Martin scoring nine straight for New Jersey while the Lakers got 3-pointers from Bryant and George.

Fisher hit a corner jumper with 5:31 left and O'Neal -- fouled while the ball was in the air -- made a foul shot to complete an unorthodox three-point play. Bryant drew a charging foul on Keith Van Horn, hit a runner in the lane, rebounded a miss by Martin and forced Kidd to alter his shot and miss a layup.

O'Neal went to the line with 4:05 left and made both, increasing the lead to 102-93, and Bryant answered a basket by Martin with a driving layup to restore the nine-point lead.

New Jersey got within five on a dunk by Martin with 2:18 left, but Fisher made a corner jumper and O'Neal -- after missing his two previous shots badly -- hit a turnaround from the lane with 1:24 left for a 108-99 lead.

The Nets surrendered moments later.

Notes: The Boston Celtics are the only team with more NBA championships -- 16. O'Neal scored 145 points to break Hakeem Olajuwon's record for most points in a four-game series. Olajuwon averaged 32.8 in a four-game sweep of O'Neal and the Orlando Magic in 1995. ... O'Neal also set four-game record for free throws attempted (68) and made (45).


 
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