Lakers History: Defending Champs Get Even With the Sixers in 2001 Finals

by Rodrigo Azurmendi
Staff Writer

“For gold is tried in the fire and acceptable men in the furnace of adversity”.

Two days after the game that ruined perfection, the defending champions found themselves in the uncomfortable position of having to react and restore order.

Allen Iverson’s iconic 48-point performance in an overtime upset had given Philadelphia an unexpected series lead after Game 1 of the 2001 Finals, snapping a 19-game winning streak that had started in early April.

Yes, after a rocky journey through the 2000 postseason, Phil Jackson’s 2001 squad demolished its competition by winning the last eight games of the regular season and the first 11 of the playoffs – sweeping Portland, Sacramento, and San Antonio along the way and remaining unbeaten over a period longer than 2 months.

The Sixers were the No. 1 seed from the Eastern Conference but far from a formidable squad, needing 7 games to get past Toronto and Milwaukee before shocking the world in Downtown Los Angeles.

This was a big test, the ultimate show of character and a chance to even things up before heading to Philly for the next 3 games of the series.

Kobe Bryant was ready though, draining the team’s first basket with a long jumper from the top of the key. Despite playing 52 minutes in Game 1, the product of Lower Merion HS dropped 12 in the opening stanza to set the tone.

Shaquille O’Neal took over in the second quarter, and by halftime he had a 17-point, 13-rebound double-double.

Larry Brown’s Sixers were held fast and managed to get to intermission only down by a deuce. They also put up a fight throughout most of the third before the levy broke.

An inspired Derek Fisher nailed a three-pointer with 18.1 seconds to go, extending the lead to 10. It wouldn’t be his last clutch bucket, as he hit another 25-footer in the 4th when Philadelphia had managed to get within a triple.

Kobe ended up with 31 points, eight rebounds, six assists and a pair of steals and blocks. Shaq fell just short of a quadruple-double, finishing with 28 & 20, plus nine assists and a ridiculous eight blocks. A.I. was kept to 23 points on 29 shots.

However, it was the third guy in double digits that sealed the deal. Veterans Brian Shaw and Ron Harper provided some timely baskets, but Fisher’s 14 – and the precise moments when he got them – wound up being the difference.

Turns out that was the last time live basketball was played in STAPLES Center that season, as the Lakers then swept all 3 in Philadelphia en route to their second consecutive championship.

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