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Lakers roll to a repeat

Shaquille O'Neal scores 29 and is named Finals MVP as L.A. defeats 76ers 108-96.

©Associated Press

© St. Petersburg Times,
published June 16, 2001

PHILADELPHIA -- No team ever had a post-season quite like these Los Angeles Lakers, who won their second straight championship with relative ease to complete the best playoff run in NBA history.

[AP photo]
Shaquille O'Neal celebrates in the locker room after the Lakers won the NBA championship on Friday.
Los Angeles defeated the 76ers 108-96 in Game 5 of the NBA Finals on Friday night, leaving the court to boos and taunts from the fans.

With Shaquille O'Neal leading the way, the Lakers finished the playoffs with a record of 15-1, the best ever, and became the first team to go through the playoffs undefeated on the road.

"This time is fun," said O'Neal, the series MVP.

The Lakers won 23 of their final 24 games and were so good that their last pass of the game -- an alley-oop from Rick Fox to O'Neal -- dropped unexpectedly through the basket for a three-pointer.

"We capped it off in the exact way we hoped we would," Fox said. "We never gave up on our chances of putting together a stretch like we did at the end. This is a remarkable return to the glory we expected to have."

The final three-pointer was one of 12 the Lakers made in a clincher that could have turned into a blowout if not for the determination of the 76ers.

The Sixers cut a 19-point deficit to seven with 1:13 left. But Derek Fisher -- as so many Lakers role players had done throughout the series -- hit a three-pointer.

Allen Iverson left the game for good with 40.3 seconds left, leaving to a standing ovation and a chant of "M-V-P" from the fans who had hoped for the Sixers' first title in almost two decades.

Finals MVP Shaquille O'Neal, left, celebrates with Kobe Bryant, second from right, after Game 5.

The fans defiantly chanted "Let's Go Sixers" as the Lakers left the court to safely receive their championship trophy somewhere other than at center court.

Bryant jumped around exuberantly after the final buzzer, cradling the game ball while extending his other arm high in the air. O'Neal sauntered downcourt with a stoic expression and hugged Lakers rookie Mark Madsen.

Bryant and Fox found Sixers coach Larry Brown and hugged him.

O'Neal finished with 29 points and 13 rebounds, Bryant scored 26, Fox had 20 and Fisher 18.

Fisher shot 6-for-8 from three-point range and again played such tight defense on Iverson that it left the Sixers' best player frustrated.

Iverson, who picked up three fouls and a technical in the first quarter, finished with a game-high 37 points on 14-for-32 shooting. Tyrone Hill added 18, and Dikembe Mutombo and Eric Snow had 13 each for Philadelphia.

The series ended somewhat anticlimactically given the way it began. The heavy underdog Sixers surprised the Lakers and the basketball world by winning Game 1 in overtime, but Los Angeles regained control by holding off the Sixers in Games 2 and 3 and winning Game 4 decisively.

The 76ers played another gritty, determined game. They just didn't have enough offense to keep up with a Lakers team that methodically answered every run they made.

"We could not have won these finals without the entire team," said Fisher, one of several members of a supporting cast who gave the Lakers the decisive edge.

Coach Phil Jackson won his eighth title -- six of them with the Michael Jordan-led Chicago Bulls -- one short of the NBA record for coaches held by Red Auerbach. Jackson has won his last 20 playoff series, also a record.

"This is surreal," he said.

Brown made a change in his Philadelphia starting lineup, replacing small forward Jumaine Jones with Snow. But the biggest difference in the opening few minutes was the way Iverson scored despite picking up two personal fouls and a technical foul in the first 2 1/2 minutes.

Iverson hit four of his first five shots as the 76ers opened a 16-10 lead. Iverson was charged with his third foul late in the first quarter.

Philadelphia took a 27-24 lead into the second quarter, but the Lakers quickly caught up when Iverson went scoreless for more than six minutes.

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