L.A. Lakers 106, New Jersey 103
EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J., June 9 (Ticker) -- Kobe Bryant
finally emerged at the NBA Finals. It could not have come too soon for
the Los Angeles Lakers and it may be too late for the New Jersey
Bryant broke out with 36 points and led a late rally as the
Lakers edged the neophyte Nets, 106-103, and moved within one
win of their third straight championship.
Obscured by the imposing shadow of Shaquille O'Neal, Bryant had
quietly averaged 23 points as the Lakers won the first two
games. He had been reduced to a complementary player as O'Neal
destroyed the Nets in Los Angeles.
Shaq has been big stuff during the Finals.|
Garrett W. Ellwood
Hosting the first Finals game in franchise history, the Nets
went to double-teams and zones that somewhat slowed O'Neal but
opened up the floor for the other Lakers -- specifically
Bryant, who reminded everyone that he also is one of the top
players in the game.
"I was just playing off him," Bryant said. "They collapse on
him and they make it hard for him to breathe down there, then
that's when I take over."
Showing aggression he had not displayed in the first two games,
Bryant made 14-of-23 shots. He scored 12 points in the fourth
quarter, including two tough baskets over defensive demon Jason
Kidd that kept the lead at four points.
"Great players make great plays," Nets coach Byron Scott said.
"He made two big ones."
The Nets also got another overpowering dose of "Shaq Diesel."
Despite the double-teams, O'Neal had 35 points, 11 rebounds and
four blocks while racking up 15 fouls on New Jersey's centers.
"I was baiting them a little bit, then I was kicking it out to
my guys," said O'Neal, who made 12-of-19 shots. "We're used to
every type of defense. I've been getting double-teamed since
age 6. I've seen every type of double-team that has ever been
Bryant wasn't the only Laker to benefit from the attention given
to O'Neal. Derek Fisher scored 13 points, Devean George added
six clutch points in the final period and foul-plagued Robert
Horry returned late to make another huge 3-pointer.
"Without Robert in there, it changes up a little bit of how
experienced we are," Jackson said. "Devean did a fine job,
"We're a confident bunch," Bryant said. "We're playing
extremely well together."
"I hate to talk about things in those terms," said Lakers coach
Phil Jackson, who is on the verge of his ninth championship,
which would tie the legendary Red Auerbach. "Obviously, that's
presumptuous, to talk about sweeping. We want to win this
Kidd was magnificent with 30 points and 10 assists. Kenyon
Martin added 26 points on 11-of-17 shooting. But it still
wasn't enough for New Jersey, which must win Game 4 on
Wednesday to avoid the first Finals sweep since 1995.
"We understand what the odds are, but it's been like that for us
all season," Kidd said. "We're going to come out and give it
our best shot come Wednesday."
"You guys were treated to seeing three of the best players in
the world play tonight," Scott said. "Unfortunately, they had
two of them."
The Lakers' rally actually started with O'Neal on the bench.
George made two free throws and a follow dunk around a drive by
Bryant to cut the deficit to 94-93 with 4:39 left.
Kidd hit a jumper, but O'Neal -- who was 11-of-17 from the line
-- made two free throws before finding Horry for a 3-pointer
that gave LA the lead for good with 3:04 to go.
On the next possession, Bryant drilled a 22-footer from the left
wing over Kidd, who made a jumper off a scramble at the other
Then it was O'Neal's turn. He spun left for a banker that beat
the shot clock and made it 102-98 with 58 seconds to play, then
soared to block a drive by Kidd 10 seconds later. But Bryant
kept things tense by missing a pair of free throws with 42
"The commissioner called me and he said, 'Kobe, if you have a
chance, I want you to make it interesting for NBC,'" joked
Bryant. "I said, 'OK.' I went up, missed the two."
After Keith Van Horn halved the deficit with a long jumper,
Bryant dribbled into the lane and nearly lost the ball to Kerry
Kittles. But he grabbed it and spun for a 10-footer over Kidd
with 19 seconds to go.
"(Kidd) was coming after the ball," Bryant said. "He has some
of the best hands, strongest hands in the league. ... It was a
matter of just wanting it. If I would have lost possession of
the basketball, we would have been in overtime. Who knows what
might have happened?"
"I thought Kerry came up with the steal," Kidd said. "So when I
saw Kobe had the ball, I tried to stick my hand in there and he
turned to his right. I'm not going to block his shot."
Kidd made a 3-pointer with 5.2 seconds left, but Rick Fox sank
two big free throws. With the Nets out of timeouts, Kidd's
desperation runner from 30 feet bounced off the backboard,
draining the emotional sellout crowd.
"We played our heart out," Martin said. "Very deflating."
Van Horn scored 14 points and Todd MacCulloch added 10 for New
Jersey, which had by far its best shooting game of the series at
52 percent (43-of-83). However, LA shot 54 percent (37-of-68),
including 8-of-16 from the arc.
Kidd fueled a 19-3 spurt that began late in the third quarter.
He had 11 points -- including two floating drives down the lane
at O'Neal -- and two assists. When he found Richard Jefferson
for a layup, the Nets had an 84-78 lead -- their biggest of the
It eventually grew to 94-87 with 6:44 left on Martin's alley-oop
dunk courtesy of Kidd before the Lakers made their late push.
Before the game, Scott paid O'Neal the ultimate compliment,
saying, "You could put him on the Memphis Grizzlies, they'd
probably be in the Finals."
From the start, Scott put more than one defender on O'Neal,
bringing double-teams after he caught the ball. All that did
was open the perimeter as Fisher made two 3-pointers in a 15-1
burst that gave the Lakers a 28-15 lead. It marked the third
straight game in which the Nets fell behind by double digits in
the first period.
O'Neal still did his thing, going through all three New Jersey
centers in the first quarter for 11 points. Aaron Williams
picked up three fouls in less than three minutes and quickly
returned to the bench.
"When we felt like he was in a danger zone for us, we knew he
could score, we wanted to attack the ball, attack the dribble as
soon as he put it down," Scott said.
With O'Neal off the floor to start the second quarter and the
Lakers holding a 31-23 lead, Bryant fed Brian Shaw for a
3-pointer around a pair of jumpers, pushing the advantage to
The Nets again went cold, scoring just one basket in the first
seven minutes of the period. But they got back in the game as
MacCulloch scored six points and Martin five the rest of the
way, pulling within 52-46 at halftime.
Even with the double-teams, O'Neal had 21 points in the first
half. Bryant added 14 while the Nets went without a
Bryant had 10 more in the third quarter, including a jumper from
the right corner that gave LA a 75-65 lead with 2:56 left. But
for the third straight game, the Lakers again let the Nets back