PHILADELPHIA — Shaquille O'Neal was
expressionless at the moment he won his second championship, sauntering down the court as if not much had happened.
No whooping it up, no smile, not even a happy little trot.
It was as if he simply expected it. Everyone else did, too.
No team ever had a postseason quite like these Los Angeles Lakers, who won their second straight championship with
relative ease Friday night to complete the best playoff run in NBA history.
Los Angeles defeated Philadelphia 108-96 in Game 5 of the NBA Finals, leaving the court to boos and taunts from
With 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 first championship was just to get the monkey off my back. The rest are to stamp myself in history."
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 3-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 3-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 made one of their
patented fourth-quarter comebacks, cutting 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 3-pointer to end the 76ers'
Allen Iverson left the game for good with 40.3 seconds left, getting a standing ovation and chants of "M-V-P" from the fans who had hoped for the Sixers' first title in almost two
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.
jumped around exuberantly after the final buzzer, cradling the game ball while extending his other arm high in the air. O'Neal ended up in the arms of Lakers rookie Mark Madsen, while Bryant and Fox found
Sixers coach Larry Brown and hugged him.
All four of those Lakers had outstanding
games. O'Neal finished with 29 points and 13 rebounds, Bryant scored 26, Fox had 20 and Fisher 18.
Fisher shot 6-for-8 from 3-point range and again played such tight defense on Iverson that it left the Sixers' best player clearly frustrated.
Iverson, who picked up three
personal fouls and a technical foul in the first quarter, finished with 37 points on 14-for-32 shooting.
He left the First Union Center without commenting after Bryant jumped ahead of him in
the interview room.
"They were phenomenal," Brown said of the Lakers. "They were well-coached, they played like a class team all series and certainly deserved to win."
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 the momentum by
holding off the Sixers in Games 2 and 3 and then 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 O'Neal and Bryant's supporting cast
who gave Philadelphia 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.
A championship hardly seemed possible just a few months ago when Bryant and
O'Neal were taking potshots at each another and the team was plagued by finger-pointing, bickering and pettiness.
The team worked out its problems by late in the season and finished with
eight straight regular-season victories before winning their first 11 postseason games.
After easily beating Portland, Sacramento and San Antonio in the first three rounds, the Lakers had
their sights set on becoming the first team to go undefeated through the playoffs.
Their Game 1 loss ended that possibility, but they won their final four to set the mark for the best
postseason winning percentage.
Sixers coach Larry Brown made a change in his starting lineup, replacing small forward Jumaine Jones with Snow. But the biggest difference in the opening few
minutes was the way Iverson was able to score despite picking up two personal fouls and a technical foul in the first 2½ minutes.
Iverson hit four of his first five shots as the 76ers opened
a 16-10 lead before Fox tied it with back-to-back 3-pointers. Iverson was charged with his third foul with 42 seconds left in the first quarter after colliding with Bryant while chasing a loose ball.
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.
O'Neal converted an alley-oop dunk
from Fox after a turnover by Iverson, making it 46-38, and Bryant finally made his first basket after an 0-for-5 start — a 3-pointer that made it 49-40.
Iverson, playing with a bruise on his
right side, scored the next six points and the Sixers cut their deficit to four by halftime. But Fisher hit a 3-pointer early in the third and Bryant made consecutive shots to give the Lakers their first
10-point lead — 59-49.
From there, the Sixers kept trying to rally all the way back, and the Lakers stopped them cold each time.
Iverson hit a 3 and a corner jumper to make it
67-62, but Fisher blocked Iverson's next shot and O'Neal converted a three-point play.
Rodney Buford and Iverson were called for offensive fouls on consecutive possessions late in the third.
Fisher made a 3-pointer after the first and Horace Grant hit a jumper after the second to make it 80-66.
O'Neal made the final shot of the third quarter, a chippy from the lane that bounced
four times on the rim before falling through to give Los Angeles an 83-68 lead.
Snow missed a dunk on Philadelphia's first possession of the fourth, and the 76ers committed turnovers on their
next two possessions. Bryant hit Robert Horry for an alley-oop layup with 10:44 left, increasing the lead to 19.
Rather than quit, the 76ers put together one last rally to try to make a game
of it. Iverson had four points in an 10-1 run that cut the deficit to nine, 93-84 with 5:20 left.
Fisher and Iverson traded 3-pointers, and O'Neal fouled out Matt Geiger and Mutombo on the
Lakers' next two possessions.
Snow made one of two free throws with 1:14 left to make it a seven-point game, 100-93, after O'Neal was called for two three-second violations.
Fisher ended all doubt by making a 3-pointer from three feet behind the arc with 51 seconds left for a 103-93 lead.
Notes: The 1982-83 Philadelphia 76ers, who went 12-1 in the playoffs, held the previous
record for best winning percentage — .923. ... George Lynch, who didn't score in Game 4 as he made his return from a broken foot, badly missed a layup in the first quarter — hitting the bottom of the rim. He
sprained his toe in the second quarter and did not return. ... Geiger fouled out with 4:10 left and got a nice ovation from the same fans who routinely booed him throughout the season. .. There were 54
personal fouls in the game.