The 2002 NBA Finals ended in a sweep for the Los Angeles Lakers, as they completed a three peat to kick off the new millennium. The New Jersey Nets were the opponent, having completed a dramatic turnaround after acquiring Jason Kidd in the previous offseason. The series always felt like a formality once the Lakers got past the Sacramento Kings in a classic western conference final, but in game 3 New Jersey gave the Lakers all they could handle. We are going to go through this game with a kind of stream of consciousness/notes format.
To start the game, the Nets run a play for Keith Van Horn, highlighting their lack of offensive firepower. Both teams started the game hot and the Lakers ball movement in the early going was superb. LA goes on a 15-1 run at one point to make it 28-15. Derek Fisher knocked down a three off a Shaq pass out of a double team, but he really looks like a dope with his headband over his ears. The Nets threw a small punch back but still trailed 23-31 after one period. The Nets offense died with Kidd on the bench in the second quarter, but Kenyon Martin led New Jersey out of the mire and helped make it just a six point game at the break; 52-46 Lakers.
As the third quarter started it is so apparent that Todd McCulloch had no shot to do anything with Shaq. The LSU big man just dominated in the paint, and it felt like something good happened for the Lakers every time he touched the ball. At one point a “Like Mike” ad scrolls through on the scorers table. It is so obvious that the Lakers are the much better team. They could beat you in so many ways; New Jersey was battling but they just did not have the horses. Kidd played a very good third quarter and was the reason the Nets were back in the game; their furious rally tied the game at 78 to end the period.
Kidd then opened the fourth with a jumper over Shaq, then a lefty layup, followed by a dish to Jefferson for a layup; Nets up six. But, just like the Showtime Lakers, when all else fails just dump it down low to the big man on the left block. Shaq got involved on nearly every play. Shaq fouled Aaron Williams out in seven minutes of action. Martin continued to be terrific; his alley-oop finish from Kidd put the Nets up seven. Shaq then got a short rest as Kobe Bryant cut the lead to just three just over five minutes to play.
The Nets started to get tight on offense, with no real shot creators on the wing. Robert Horry drilled a three to regain the lead for the Lakers, 98-96, with three minutes left. On the next Lakers possession, Kobe hit a backbreaking jumper at the buzzer of the shot clock to put the Lakers up by four. Shaq then banked in an incredible jump hook to put the Lakers up four again with 57 seconds left. The Nets go to Kidd, searching for a bucket, but Shaq blocked his floater. Kobe was then fouled but missed both free throws. The Nets narrowed the gap to two points on the other end but Kobe came back with a tough floater between two defenders to put LA back up by four; a massively clutch play. As the game neared its conclusion, Kidd made a three to cut the lead to one, but Fox free throws and a missed desperation three from Kidd saw the Lakers take a 3-0 series lead with a 106-103 victory.