The topic of Shaquille O’Neal and Kobe Bryant has been a relevant one in recent days thanks to the Big Aristotle’s podcast which featured the duo clearing the air on many things and generally talking about how deep their friendship is.
The memories those two created for Lakers fans is nearly endless, with the overarching achievement being their three-peat. Digging deeper, there was the nearly flawless run to the 2001 title (damn you Allen Iverson) and the seven-game thriller in the 2002 Western Conference Finals against a feisty Kings team.
But those moments might not have even happened if not for a dramatic game in the 2000 playoffs. Before Iverson or the controversy in 2002, the Lakers were staring another exit from the playoffs without even a trip to the Finals as they faced the Blazers in 2000.
With Phil Jackson at the helm, everything was supposed to change, and it looked like 2000 would be the year. Shaq and Kobe seemed to “get it” as they averaged 52.2 points as a tandem that year. But up against a Blazers team that featured Rasheed Wallace, an aging Scottie Pippen and Steve Smith, the Lakers were pushed to the brink.
We know how it turned out, but let’s relive that fateful fourth quarter where all seemed lost. YouTube has the entire game uploaded, but in 12 parts. For sake of brevity, we’ll start with part nine, which is just over a minute into the fourth quarter with the Lakers trailing 74-60. Like last time, I’ll timestamp it with the time on the YouTube video itself.
0:37 – You want to know what made this Lakers team so great? Basketball IQ and the understanding of the system. After Kobe forces a bad shot, the ball is tipped out to Brian Shaw, who fires a pass to what appears to be Rick Fox, who immediately hits Shaq who is posted up nearly under the basket for a quick hoop. There was such a decisiveness about that play that highlights what was so great about those three-peat teams.
0:58 – Who needs Shaq in the middle of the paint when Kobe is there?
Not only a great block, but he keeps it in bound to retain possession. At the time of this huge game, Kobe was 21 years old. Astonishing.
1:12 – Brian Shaw is way better at hitting clutch threes than he is at connecting with millennials.
1:56 – What a truly fantastic four-second commercial for the WNBA.
3:36 – Kobe bricks a free throw, which makes the Lakers 10-for-20 from the line at this point. Wouldn’t ya know it, it’s a 10-point game as well. Funny how those things work.
4:18 – The Lakers have forced three straight misses by the Blazers, all on at least semi-contested look. Seeing a team wearing purple and gold playing defense is weird after the last few years.
4:57 – Huge moment in the quarter as Arvydas Sabonis sits down with five fouls, leaving Brian Grant to guard Shaq. Poor Brian Grant.
5:14 – Seconds later, Shaq just out jumps Grant for a rebound before Rasheed fouls him.
5:45 – Shaq just barely misses a bullseye with his dart thr….nope wait, that was a free throw. My mistake.
6:43 – You can see, even for how good he was, the young mistakes by Bryant. After Pippen throws up a wild shot, Kobe gets the outlet and instead of waiting for his teammates, forces up a long, contested two-point jumper that misses and Portland rebounds.
7:37 – Portland’s list of misses in the quarter is starting to resemble the length of their collective team rap sheet.
7:57 – Big Shot Bob grabs a rebound, dribbles to the three-point line, then calmy buries a three to push it to a 10-0 run and pull LA within five. How could you not love this guy (unless you’re a Suns fan, then that’s understandable)?
It’s confirmed. He is not Dr. J.
0:57 – Holy tough shot, Batman. Kobe pump fakes, dribbles left into a defender, then says screw it and buries a jumper. It’s a 12-0 run now.
1:45 – It’s like Portland is playing a game of who can make the dumbest decision while taking a shot. Rasheed takes a dribble TOWARD Shaq, then shoots over his arm. Shockingly, it doesn’t go in.
2:10 – Bob Costas (who should do more basketball games) says Portland is 0 for their last 10. That’s a lot of misses.
2:19 – In a moment of forgetfulness, Brian Grant forgets that there’s a 7’0, 300 pound monster inches from him as he softly puts up a lay-up that is smashed back to half-court. Don’t worry, we’ve all been there before.
2:30 – Wallace has a WIDE open three now and it’s brick city. This is an impressive collapse.
3:02 – Remember when I said Shaw only hit clutch threes? Who do you put on your team late in a game, him or Derek Fisher? It’s a close debate. I’d probably SLIGHTLY favor Fisher, but by the slimmest of margins.
5:20 – Holy crap. It only took a 15-0 Laker run for the Blazers to finally hit Wallace on a post-up deep in the paint for an easy score.
5:35 – Sabonis is in the game so briefly that I didn’t even know he checked in before he collects a foul and is done for the game. Bring in Grant, who has been destroyed by Bill Walton on the broadcast.
7:10 – Again, the possession is spent with the Lakers looking for Shaq. Shaw hits him with a nice entry pass and Shaq immediately turns and banks in a baby hook off the glass. It’s beautiful to watch. Lakers lead.
Also of note, something I’ve toiled over in recent years is the lighting in the Staples Center. It’s something many may not notice, but in recent years, they’ve turned the lights off around the arena with a spotlight effect on the court to dramatize the game or make it seem more like a theater performance, which makes sense in Los Angeles.
However, there’s something oh so enjoyable about watching the Lakers fans standing, cheering, waving towels and genuinely enjoying the game that you don’t see now.
I say turn the lights back on.
8:08 – Shaq passes out of a double-team, something he was terrific at, and Kobe drives the lane and is fouled. Sheed acts like a toddler throwing a temper tantrum for a brief moment and rolls around on the floor. Interesting.
9:33 – After the aforementioned free throw troubles by Bryant and the Lakers, he calmly buries a pair for a two-point Laker lead. He hits them when they count, I guess.
0:43 – Sheed misses a pair of free throws. There’s ice cold, then there’s what the Blazers are doing right now.
1:00 – Kobe isos, dribbles, then hits a pull-up jumper. Did I mention he’s only 21?
1:26 – That play just happened. You know what I’m talking about. Bryant….TO SHAQ!
That play has such huge significance on it’s own, but even just watching this fourth quarter, you understand a little more why it’s so big. Even more, it signaled a breakthrough for the Lakers.
After Bryant and Shaq joined forces in the summer of 1996, there was lots of failure. The early years of Kobe with Eddie Jones and Nick Van Exel, the airballs in Utah, and then this season which looked like THE season for the team, only to have it only seemingly crumble in Game 7, one step away from the Finals.
Only the team rallies behind Bryant, Shaq, and the role players hitting big shots, all culminating in that one alley-oop, all but sending the Lakers to the Finals.
Obviously that play is the most iconic single play in the Kobe-Shaq era, but is that the case for any era in Lakers history? I would imagine the Magic running skyhook in against the Celtics would have a spot, but is it higher than this?
3:05 – Wait, the game didn’t end on that lob? WHAT IS THIS NONSENSE?
3:14 – Oh so Sheed thinks he’s Jimmer Fredette now?
4:09 – JERMAINE O’NEAL SIGHTING!
Think of this: Jermaine entered the league as the youngest player ever at the time, played his entire career, and retired all within the beginning and end of Kobe’s career.
6:36 – The refs forget they have a whistle as they don’t blow it as Shaq mauls Steve Smith. Thanks, refs!
8:23 – Kobe missed two free throws with the game in the balance. He sometimes likes to act like a human so people don’t think he’s a cyborg.
2:07 – Who you gonna call when you need a big shot? THAT’S ROBERT HORRY’S MUSIC!!!
3:56 – BAH GOD KING, ROBERT HORRY MISSED TWO BIG SHOTS!?! BY GOD AS MY WITNESS, I SWEAR I’VE NEVER SEEN ANYTHING LIKE IT!!
4:58 – We’ll ignore the fact that Horry went 1-for-2 at the line that time because THE LAKERS ARE GOING TO THE FINALS!
Bob Costas, as he always seems to do, summed it up perfectly:
“I’m not sure if the Lakers won as much as they escaped, but they showed heart down 16. A huge comeback in the fourth quarter.”
This Lakers team was so driven and so hungry, which is what made them so special.
And you know what we only saw a very small handful of times? Long twos. WHAT SAY YOU NOW, BYRON?!?!?