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Kobe Bryant-to-Shaquille O’Neal alley-oops are among the most iconic and lasting NBA images of the early 2000s. The duo’s alley-oop in Game 7 of the 2000 Western Conference finals stands above the rest, without a doubt.
Entering the playoffs with the top overall seed, the Lakers would defeat the Sacramento Kings and Phoenix Suns before meeting the Portland Trail Blazers in the Western Conference finals.
Los Angeles took a 3-1 series lead, but then dropped two games in a row to Portland to set up a winner-take-all Game 7 that would set the tone for both franchises over the next decade. The Blazers never made it out of the first round again in the 2000s. The Lakers, meanwhile, would go on to win three consecutive championships and five overall by the end of the 2009-10 season.
With Portland up 75-60 with 10:28 remaining in the game, it looked as though Los Angeles was on the verge of an epic meltdown; set to become just the seventh team to blow a 3-1 series lead.
Instead, the Lakers mounted one of the greatest Game 7 comebacks in NBA history.
“It took everything we had,” Lakers forward Glen Rice would say. “We were down 15, and time was running out. The big thing was we didn’t panic.”
No, the Lakers certainly did not panic. Having not lost three consecutive games all season, the Lakers rallied behind the team’s pair of superstar future Hall of Famers, Kobe Bryant and Shaquille O’Neal.
O’Neal had been shut down by the Blazers rugged frontcourt for most of the game, but came to life in the fourth quarter with nine points — the last two coming on the receiving end of the famous lob from Bryant, who finished the game with 25 points, 11 rebounds, seven assists and four blocked shots. The rafter-rattling dunk from O’Neal put the Lakers up 85-79 with just over 40 seconds to play, effectively sealing the win and sending Los Angeles back to the NBA Finals for the first time since 1991.
After the play, O’Neal darted across the court toward the Lakers’ bench, waving his index finger at an elated home crowd as the Blazers called a desperation timeout.
When the dust settled, the Lakers held on to win 89-84, outscoring the Blazers 31-13 in the fourth and holding Portland to 5 of 23 shooting in the pivotal quarter of the game.
“Game 7s are very interesting, but I’ve never seen any quite like that one before,” said Lakers coach Phil Jackson, who’d seen his share of playoff brilliance as the coach of Michael Jordan’s six-time champion Chicago Bulls.
The Lakers would go on to defeat the Indiana Pacers 4-2 in The Finals to claim the franchise’s first championship since 1988.