Shaq, MJ only players to win three straight Finals MVPsPosted: Thursday June 13, 2002 12:04 AM
Updated: Thursday June 13, 2002 3:32 AM
EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. (AP) -- Shaq got his three-peat, too.
Shaquille O'Neal, cementing his reputation as one of the most dominating players ever, won his third consecutive NBA Finals MVP award Wednesday night as the Los Angeles Lakers completed a sweep of the New Jersey Nets.
O'Neal joined Michael Jordan (1991-93, 1996-98) as the only players to win three straight Finals MVPs since the award was first presented in 1969. Hakeem Olajuwon (1994-95) is the only other player to win the award in consecutive years.
Just as O'Neal did in the last two finals, he thoroughly controlled the inside, only this time he did so despite a painful arthritic right big toe -- an ailment that bothered him all season.
And he did it not far from his birthplace of Newark -- the Brick City, as he called it.
"He has all his family here, this is where he was born and raised," teammate Brian Shaw said. "I think that's the greatest present he could give to his family."
O'Neal acknowledged how difficult the season was and credited coach Phil Jackson and his mother and father for staying on him.
"We're a great team that went through a lot of tough times," O'Neal said. "Phil gave us a plan when he came here, he promised if we stuck with the plan, we would win.
"I didn't have any championships when he got here and now I have three. Everybody stuck to their role."
O'Neal, who had 34 points and 10 rebounds in the Lakers' series-closing 113-107 victory over the Nets, averaged 36.3 points and 12.3 rebounds in the four games.
"He's a monster," Nets coach Byron Scott said midway through the finals.
Earlier this week, O'Neal called that one of the four lowest points of his life.
O'Neal also set four-game finals records with his 68 free throw attempts and 45 conversions -- a 66.2 percentage.
"I knew if I didn't make my free throws that they would go to Hack-a-Shaq, and I didn't want to go through that again," he said.
O'Neal's sudden accuracy at the line actually began before the finals -- he went 13-of-17 and 11-of-15, respectively, in the last two games of the Western Conference finals against Sacramento, when the Lakers scored narrow victories.
He was 12-of-20 from the floor and 10-of-16 from the foul line Wednesday night.
"He's the best right now, there's no one greater than him," said Robert Horry, a teammate of Olajuwon's in Houston. "Without him, we probably would have been sitting at home watching this. I know we would have.
"Shaq was like a big man playing with little kids, he was so dominant."
O'Neal did most of his damage in the first three quarters in Game 4 with 28 points and eight rebounds.
In the final period, with the Nets surrounding him, he mostly deferred to his teammates.
O'Neal's foul shot completed a three-point play and gave the Lakers a 98-93 lead.
He would add another pair of free throws before hitting a turnaround jumper in the lane for a 108-99 lead with 1:24 to play.
Game, and series, over.
O'Neal made his first four shots -- none of them dunks -- instead using his quickness and agility to get shots from close range against the smaller New Jersey defenders.
As the game went on, the Nets double-teamed O'Neal more, and he used his deft passing ability to find open teammates.
At one stage in the third quarter, he scored six straight Los Angeles points on two savage dunks around a skyhook from the baseline -- remindful of the shot made famous by Kareem Abdul-Jabbar.
O'Neal averaged 38.0 points and 16.7 rebounds in leading the Lakers past Indiana in six games in the 2000 Finals, and 33.0 points and 15.6 rebounds last year as Los Angeles beat Philadelphia in five games.
The Lakers became the fifth team to win as many as three straight championships, and with the 30-year-old O'Neal and 23-year-old Kobe Bryant under contract for four and three seasons, respectively, they figure as favorites for years to come.
Despite his sore toe, O'Neal scored 41 and 35 points against Sacramento in the last two games of the Western Conference finals and 36, 40 and 35 points against the Nets in the first three games of the NBA Finals.
He hadn't been anywhere near his usual dominating self except in spurts for quite some time until the final two games of the conference finals -- when the Lakers needed it the most.
And that's the way it went against the Nets.
O'Neal said it was a matter of adrenaline -- that his toe wasn't better, hadn't gotten any better, the games just meant more and he wasn't going to pace himself any longer.