Work in Sports
LOS ANGELES (Ticker) -- Twelve years ago, it was "Showtime." The Los Angeles Lakers finally are back on top of the NBA with a new version called "Shaqtime."
Powered by the irresistible force of Shaquille O'Neal, the Lakers won their 12th NBA championship and first since 1988 with a 116-111 victory over the Indiana Pacers.
O'Neal imposed his 7-1, 330-pound will on the entire series, which Los Angeles won in six games. He scored 41 points -- eclipsing 40 for the third time -- and eventually just wore down the Pacers, who did not have enough big men to battle the "Man of Steel."
"I worked very hard to get here," said O'Neal, who also grabbed 12 rebounds and became only the third player to win the Most Valuable Player award for the All-Star Game, regular season and NBA Finals.
Although his brute strength never will be confused for the glamorous fast-break offense led by Magic Johnson and known as "Showtime," O'Neal showed it was just as effective. He continued the Lakers' legacy of champion pivotmen, which began in the 1950s with George Mikan in Minneapolis, continued with Wilt Chamberlain in the 1970s and became a dynasty with Kareem Abdul-Jabbar in the 1980s.
As the horn sounded, O'Neal took a leaping bear hug from Kobe Bryant. Before he was validated as a champion, he got some help from the All-Star guard and from the officials in the final minute. But in his eighth season, he now can give himself a new nickname -- "The Big Champion."
"It was a close game, a well-played game," O'Neal said. "But the last two minutes, all the balls bounced our way, shots went our way."
The series ended just the way it started -- with O'Neal hammering home dunks and Reggie Miller missing 3-pointers. In between, the pesky Pacers found a way to play with the Lakers, which almost no one expected them to do. However, they ultimately were swatted aside by O'Neal, who averaged 38 points and 16.7 rebounds in the series.
As O'Neal and the Lakers perhaps ushered in a new era, they also ended one. This was the last game for Pacers coach Larry Bird, whose classic duels with Johnson were followed by the emergence of Michael Jordan and lifted the NBA to improbable heights in the 1980s and 1990s.
"I've been in the league for eight years and this is what I wanted to come to the NBA for," O'Neal said. "Growing up, I used to see Larry and Magic celebrate, Mike (too)."
"It's been a great experience, as good as professional experiences you can have," Bird said. "I'm not cut out to be a coach."
Lakers coach Phil Jackson guided Jordan and the Chicago Bulls to six titles in the 1990s. Tonight he became just the second coach in NBA history to guide different teams to championships and saw the potential to dominate another decade.
"It's always sweet," said Jackson, who trails only the legendary Red Auerbach's nine titles. "What a way to start a millennium."
"I want to thank Phil Jackson, the real coach of the year," O'Neal said.
Throughout the playoffs, the Lakers were chided for their inability to close out series, especially on the road. As the top seed in the postseason, they repeatedly fell back on their home-court edge and used it better than anyone. They became the first team to win each series at home since the NBA went to its current playoff format in 1984.
The sellout crowd of 18,997 at the Staples Center was not as big a factor as it was in Game Seven of the Western Conference finals but it made its presence known tonight, especially in the fourth quarter.
"They pay a lot of money to see a good show," O'Neal said. "You give them a good show, they'll yell."
O'Neal did just that in the fourth quarter, scoring 10 points in the first six minutes on a series of unstoppable power moves as the Lakers rallied. He added a turnaround jumper with 4:07 to go in a 6-0 spurt that gave Los Angeles the lead for good and withstood a final dose of "Hack-a-Shaq," making 1-of-4 free throws as he was intentionally fouled twice.
That was the only way for the undersized Pacers to somewhat slow O'Neal, who became the fifth player to score at least 30 points in each game of the Finals. He shot 61 percent (96-of-157) from the field but just 39 percent (36-of-93) from the line, including 3-of-12 tonight.
"Shaquille O'Neal was very dominant," admitted Bird, who resorted to intentional fouls after saying he would not. "We had problems with him. We had Dale Davis playing him most of the time, a matchup with Rik Smits. ... He was just too much for us."
"We're going to get one next year, too," O'Neal said.
Bryant had 26 points and 10 rebounds as he used this series to cement his status as a superstar. He made only 8-of-27 shots but continually weaved his way inside Indiana's defense, cracking it before O'Neal smashed it into pieces.
"I can't wait to do it again," said Bryant, who is all of 21 years old.
Jalen Rose scored 29 points and Miller added 25 for the Pacers, who were in the NBA Finals for the first time in franchise history and looked it at times. However, they never quit and still had a chance until a pair of questionable calls in the final 90 seconds did them in.
"I've always watched the Finals in years past and the teams that usually win it, they make the plays and make things happen," Miller said. "We were a couple bounces away here and there from making those plays where we would have been in this position.
"We didn't make the plays when we had to. I don't know if that was because it was our first time here or not."
Indiana trailed 110-109 and Dale Davis blocked a drive by Glen Rice. In the ensuing scramble, Rice was fouled by Austin Croshere, who appeared to make only incidental contact.
"I think the referees ought to turn their head on something like that," Miller said.
Rice, who scored 16 points, made both free throws for a 112-109 lead with 1:16 remaining. The teams traded misses before Miller pulled up for a transition 3-pointer that was long -- his eighth miss in 10 tries from beyond the arc -- with 33 seconds remaining.
"I tried to get the first look I probably could," Miller explained. "I probably could have took the ball off the dribble and got an easy layup, but I'm never one to do things easy. I wanted to tie the ballgame up right there."
On the next possession, Bryant drove left and got caught in the air as Croshere came over and smothered his shot with 13 seconds left. Again, he was called for a foul on what appeared to be a clean play. Bryant made both free throws and two more after a dunk by Davis to seal it.
Trailing 84-79, the Lakers had several surges in the final period. They opened with a 15-6 push that featured 3-pointers by Derek Fisher, Robert Horry and Rick Fox and three inside hoops by O'Neal -- who each time was fouled and missed the free throw.
Horry, who scored all eight of his points in the fourth quarter, made another 3-pointer before O'Neal thundered home two follow dunks to stretch the lead to 101-94 with 6:31 to go. But after leading for all of the middle two quarters, the Pacers refused to quit.
Rose and Davis each hit two free throws and Rose sank a 3-pointer that tied it at 103-103 with 5:05 left. Horry responded with a lane jumper and O'Neal made a turnaround shot before Bryant's long jumper extended to a 109-103 advantage with 3:28 to play. That was the last basket for the Lakers.
Running out of time, Indiana twice fouled O'Neal, who made only one free throw. In between, Miller hit a 22-footer -- his only fourth-quarter basket in three games at the Staples Center. The big guy took a seat as Croshere and Davis each made one from the line to make it 110-107 with 1:56 left.
Davis had 20 points, 14 rebounds and three blocks. Croshere, who came into his own in this series, scored 16 points. Mark Jackson had 10 points, 11 assists and eight rebounds for Indiana.
The Lakers shot 48 percent (43-of-90), including 10-of-17 from the arc, where they were better than the Pacers. Indiana shot 47 percent (36-of-77), including 12-of-25 from 3-point range.
Los Angeles held a 44-41 rebounding edge. The team that won the boards won every game in the series.
Before the game, Jackson said, "Momentum is a mistress. You have to pay attention to it a lot." Bird said his team had to get off to a good start to have a chance to win. Both were right.
Despite some trouble on the offensive boards, Indiana prevented Los Angeles from running away early with the good shooting it displayed in Games Four and Five. Davis got loose inside for nine points and the Pacers shot 50 percent, including a 40-footer by Jackson at the horn for a 26-24 lead.
That shot set the tone for the second quarter. While Los Angeles force-fed O'Neal inside, Indiana continued to bomb away from outside. In less than four minutes, the Pacers got 3-pointers from Derrick McKey and Croshere and a pair from Sam Perkins, whose second closed a 14-5 surge and opened a 47-35 lead with 6:43 remaining.
Indiana still held a 56-47 advantage after a 3-pointer by Croshere -- its eighth of the half -- with 57 seconds to go. But O'Neal sank a free throw for his 21st point, Bryant had a steal that led to a dunk by O'Neal and Bryant buried a 3-pointer to make it a three-point game at halftime.
The Lakers got within one point on three occasions in the third period but the Pacers had an answer each time.
Bryant opened with a drive but Indiana rattled off six in a row.
Rice's 3-pointer made it 71-70 with 3:53 left but Jackson had a 3-pointer and Miller a reverse layup for a three-point play in an 8-2 spurt. Bryant snuck inside and shoveled a pass to O'Neal for a three-point play that cut it to 80-79 in the final minute.
"We had to break them down, that's all," Bryant said. "I was just creating, similar to the Game Four situation, penetrating."
But Miller hit two from the line and Rose drained a turnaround jumper for a five-point edge entering the final quarter.