EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J., June 12 (Ticker) --
It was a sweeping statement by the Los Angeles Lakers.
Led by the brute force of Shaquille O'Neal
and the brilliance of Phil Jackson, the Lakers joined the NBA's pantheon of
greatness, winning their third straight title with a 113-107 victory over the New Jersey Nets to complete a
"I was sort of a great player that didn't have any championships," O'Neal said. "Ever since I met Phil, now I have three."
Called "a monster" by New Jersey coach Byron Scott, the 7-1, 350-pound O'Neal terrorized the Nets throughout the entire
series and collected 34 points and 10 rebounds in the clincher.
Shaq joins Michael Jordan as the only players to win Finals MVP three years in a row.|
Garrett W. Ellwood
Maintaining that he was on a mission, O'Neal averaged 36.3 points and 12.3 rebounds as he demoralized every defense thrown at him and was a unanimous selection for his third straight NBA Finals Most Valuable Player award.
O'Neal scored 145 points, setting a record for a four-game Finals. He also established marks with 68 free-throw attempts
and 45 made, putting "Hack-a-Shaq" to rest, once and for all.
"I just knew I had to hit them," O'Neal said. "In any part of this series, if I were to start missing them, they probably
would go into the Hack-a-Shaq as a strategy. I didn't feel like going through that."
In the first two games, O'Neal simply overpowered Nets centers Todd MacCulloch
, Jason Collins
and Aaron Williams
, who were whistled for 47 fouls in the series. In the last two, he foiled double-teams and zones with smart passes that led to wide-open shots for his teammates.
"You can pick your poison," said Nets star guard Jason Kidd
. "You're going to watch Shaq dunk the ball all night, or you're going to hope that their outside shooters don't make (shots)."
Never was that more evident than in the fourth quarter, when O'Neal appeared a bit less than his usual indestructible self. The Lakers continued a 3-point barrage and the floor opened for Kobe Bryant
, who overcame a lethargic start to score 11 of his 25 points in the decisive final period.
"If I see a gap in the first three quarters and I'm struggling, I'm not going to take it," Bryant said. "I'll just wait for the right time."
"This is a good group with their focus," Jackson said. "They have very good focus. They seem to build strength in a game. They knew that games aren't won in the first quarter, seasons aren't won in the first month. And they pace themselves very well. They're a very experienced team."
The Lakers became the fifth team to win three straight titles, and three of them have been coached by Jackson. He guided the Chicago Bulls to six titles in eight years in the 1990s before arriving in Los Angeles and putting his motivational skills to work on an underachieving team.
"He knows if he blasts me in the paper, I won't respond but, I will go out and try to dominate the next game," O'Neal said. "He's been doing that the last couple years. Every now and then I say something back and people think we have a problem. We don't have a problem. It's total respect. I realize if it wasn't for Phil, I wouldn't have any championships."
"One of the media guys told me it was 11 years ago to the date that the Chicago Bulls won the first championship in L.A. And it seems like more than that," said Jackson, who never has lost in the Finals. "I'm looking forward to the challenge of trying to get back here and win a 10th."
This one had to be especially sweet for Jackson, who never had swept an opponent in the Finals. He also tied the legendary Red Auerbach with his ninth title and overtook Pat Riley as the all-time playoff wins leader with 156.
"It looks like I'm going to have to get my own cigar out of my briefcase in the locker room and light it up," Jackson said. "I didn't get one FedExed by Red today."
It was the 14th championship for the Lakers and their ninth since moving from Minneapolis in 1960. It also marked the first time they had swept the Finals, something Lakers legends George Mikan, Wilt Chamberlain, Jerry West, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Magic Johnson never had done.
It was the seventh sweep in Finals history and the first since 1995, when O'Neal was on the wrong end of Houston's demolition of Orlando. He had been pained by that loss for a long time and put the hurt on the Nets.
After a magical season that included a franchise-record 52 wins, their first Atlantic Division title and an improbable trip to the Finals, the Nets were bludgeoned by O'Neal and burned by their lack of fire on the league's biggest stage. They held a lead at the end of a quarter just once in the series.
"Obviously, I'm hurt," said Scott, a former Laker who now has been swept as a player and a coach. "I wanted this season to continue. I'm disappointed that we didn't take it further. But I'm also very, very proud of my guys."
"We just poured the foundation of us trying to build a home," Kidd said. "They've already built their mansion, and they added a couple guest houses."
had a playoff career-high 35 points and 11 rebounds for New Jersey, then lit into unidentified teammates afterward.
"You get the stat sheet, it can tell you (who)," he said. "It's difficult to deal with, you know? It's the most important game of our lives, and people went and they just didn't bring it."
The Lakers made 11-of-19 shots from the arc. Devean George's third of the game gave them the lead for good at 92-89 with 7:46 left.
O'Neal had yet to score in the fourth quarter when he became entangled with Martin in a battle for a loose ball and
body-blocked the smaller forward with 5:42 remaining.
O'Neal won the ensuing jump ball, leading to a long jumper by Derek Fisher. On the play, Collins threw O'Neal to the floor, and O'Neal's foul shot made it 98-93.
Bryant floated into the lane for a short shot and O'Neal made two free throws -- fouling out Collins in the process -- for a 102-93 bulge with 4:05 to play.
O'Neal missed a couple of shots and a dunk by Martin cut the deficit to 104-99 with 2:17 to go. Fisher responded with an
open jumper and O'Neal threw in a turnaround hook to rebuild the lead to nine points and start the celebration on the bench.
"Three in a row is unbelievable," Lakers forward Rick Fox said. "One was great, then we got two, three we sweep. Just
Fisher scored 13 points, Robert Horry added 12 as he collected his fifth championship, and George had 11 points. They were among five Lakers with at least two 3-pointers. Overall, L.A. shot 52 percent (37-of-71).
Lucious Harris ended a series-long slump with 22 points and Kidd added a quiet 13 and 12 assists for the Nets, who
shot 49 percent (45-of-92).
The first quarter was New Jersey's best of the series and it still had no answers for O'Neal, who scored 12 points. But
Martin abused Horry for the biggest individual quarter of the Finals.
He scored 17 points, including nine in a 15-1 run that gave the Nets a 30-21 advantage with 2:25 left. He added a dunk and a turnaround jumper for a 34-27 lead after one period -- the first time New Jersey had been in front after any quarter.
"I live and die for this game," he said. "Some people, they just approach it (as), 'Oh, well.' That's their attitude."
But Martin and Kidd both sat to start the second quarter and the lead quickly disappeared. O'Neal found Brian Shaw for a pair of layups and overpowered Aaron Williams for a layup and dunk, giving Los Angeles a 47-45 edge with 5:42 to go.
"They started off with a bang," Jackson said. "We wanted to ride that emotional tide and find a way to get back in the game."
The double-teams on O'Neal opened the perimeter for the Lakers, who made 5-of-7 3-pointers in the first half. That continued in the third quarter, when they made four more. One by Bryant from the top of the arc made it 83-76 with 2:54 to go.
Back came Kidd, scoring the first seven points of an 11-0 burst before another 3-pointer by Bryant tied it, 87-87, early in the final period.