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Lakers three-peat

LAKERS 113, NETS 107: Los Angeles defeats New Jersey in 4 straight for its 3rd consecutive NBA title.

©Associated Press
June 13, 2002

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- Proficiently and professionally, Los Angeles finished strong, closed out New Jersey and won its third consecutive NBA title with a franchise first -- a 4-0 sweep in the Finals.

Shaquille O'Neal had another dominant game Wednesday with 34 points and 10 rebounds, and Kobe Bryant went back to playing a supporting role with 25 points in the 113-107 victory.

The rest of the Lakers also came up big in the deciding game -- just as they did a season ago.

It was the 14th title in franchise history, five while the team was in Minneapolis -- including a three-peat -- and nine in Los Angeles. This, however, was the first time they beat an opponent in four consecutive games.

Bryant walked over and hugged Nets coach Byron Scott, and O'Neal, the Finals MVP, sought out Nets guard Jason Kidd and then walked over to embrace his grandfather, who toweled the sweat off O'Neal's face.

Coach Phil Jackson tied Red Auerbach for most titles as a coach (nine) and passed Pat Riley for the most postseason victories (156). Jackson also went over to Scott, smiled and shook hands at midcourt.

The Nets all but conceded defeat with 44 seconds left, subbing for Kidd and Kenyon Martin despite trailing by only six.

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, his only one of the series.

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.

O'Neal, who considers nearby Newark, N.J., to be his hometown, won his third consecutive Finals MVP award.

He 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.

He thanked his teammates for "looking for me and having the confidence in me to give me the ball."

"I told them if we made the finals I wasn't going to let them down," O'Neal said.

O'Neal joined Michael Jordan (1991-93, 1996-98) as the only players to win three consecutive 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 he did in the last two Finals, O'Neal thoroughly controlled the inside, only this time he did so despite a painful arthritic right big toe, an ailment that bothered him all season.

O'Neal's 145 points established a record for a four-game Finals, surpassing Olajuwon's 131 points in 1995, when Houston swept O'Neal and Orlando.

Earlier this week, O'Neal called that one of the four lowest points of his life.

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.

"He's one of the five greatest centers of all time," said Hall of Famer Bill Walton, now a commentator for NBC, naming Bill Russell, Wilt Chamberlain, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Olajuwon as the others.

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

The Nets 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.

"Even thinking of anything past that final buzzer is ridiculous for us," Jackson said. "Momentum shifts from quarter to quarter and timeout to timeout. But it also shifts from game to game. If (the Nets) gain momentum, we can have a series on our hands if we're not careful."

Martin had the highest-scoring quarter of anyone in the series, getting 17 in the first 12 minutes on an assortment of dunks and mid-range 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 at 41.

Back-to-back 3-pointers by George and Horry gave Los Angeles a 55-49 lead, and a 3 by Fisher made it 58-52 before New Jersey closed the half with a 5-0 run to trail by one at the break.

Fox had eight points in the first six minutes of the third quarter, and the Lakers increased their lead to eight late in the quarter. 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 in a row 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.

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