By Ron Griffitts
In June 2002, the defending champion Los Angeles Lakers (58-24) still coached by Phil Jackson with Mitch Kupchak as general manager met the New Jersey Nets (52-30) coached by former Laker star Byron Scott and had Rod Thorn as their general manager.
In their first appearance in the finals the Nets were led by point guard Jason Kidd (14.7 ppg, 9.9 apg, 7.3 rpg), former Cincinnati Bearcats star Kenyon Martin (14.9 ppg, 5.3 rpg), Kerry Kittles (13.4 ppg) and Keith Van Horn (14.8 ppg, 7.5 rpg). They defeated the Indiana Pacers (3-2), Charlotte Hornets (4-1) and the Boston Celtics (4-2) on their way to the finals.
The Lakers, appearing in their third consecutive finals, were led by the dual tandem of Kobe Bryant (23.7 ppg, 5.1 apg, 5.2 rpg) and Shaquille O’Neal (27.1 ppg, 10.6 rpg). Along with Derek Fisher (11.2ppg), they got past the Portland Trail Blazers (3-0), San Antonio Spurs (4-1) and the Sacramento Kings (4-3) to get to the finals.
Game one was in the Staples Center in Los Angeles and although the Nets outscored the Lakers in each of the last three quarters of the game, they were outscored 29-14 in the first quarter and could not make up that deficit with the Lakers coming out on top 99-94 for a 1-0 lead in the series.
Shaquille O’Neal was his usual dominant self with 36 points/16 rebounds and Kobe Bryant added 21 points to lead the Lakers. Jason Kidd had a triple double for the Nets with 23 points/10 assists/ 10 rebounds and Kenyon Martin contributed 21 points.
In game two, the Lakers were dominant throughout as the Nets’ field goal percentage was only .349 compared to the Lakers’ .500 for a 106-83 victory. Shaq had 40 points/ 12 rebounds and Kobe Bryant added 24 points while Kerry Kittles led the Nets with 23 points. LA took a 2-0 lead in the Series.
In game three, the teams moved to Continental Airlines Arena in East Rutherford, New Jersey. This was the closest game of the series as the Nets and Lakers were tied after three quarters at 78-78. New Jersey led by as much as six points in the fourth quarter only to have Kobe Bryant make a difficult field goal at the end of the game for a 104-102 Lakers’ win.
With the game on the line and double teamed with Jason Kidd trying to knock the ball away, Kobe Bryant made the winning field goal, one reason he was considered one of the great clutch players of his time.
Bryant finished with 36 points and Shaq had 35 and a key block on a Jason Kidd field goal attempt in the fourth quarter to help preserve the Laker win. Jason Kidd 20 points/10 assists and Kenyon Martin with 26 points paced the Nets as they go down 3-0.
Game four had a similar result as the previous three. The Nets got out to a 34-27 lead after the first quarter but the Lakers were persistent and ended up with a 113-107 win to take the series.
Shaquille O’Neal had 34 points/10 rebounds and Kobe Bryant 25 points/8 assists for LA while Kenyon Martin had his best game of the series with 35 points/11 rebounds and Lucious Harris contributed 22 points off the bench. Shaq got his third consecutive finals MVP award and Phil Jackson won his ninth NBA title in 12 years. The Nets returned to the finals the following year while LA was back in 2004.
Statistics for this article were from basketball-reference.com and YouTube.com.
Ron Griffitts a contributing columnist for The Daily Advocate.