in collaboration with the Sportsecyclopedia.com
The Los Angeles Lakers win their first NBA Championship since 1988. The Lakers win the championship by beating the Indiana Pacers in six games. The Lakers win the finale 116-111 as Shaquille O’Neal scores 41 points with 12 rebounds at Staples Center. Shaq averaged 38 points and 16.7 rebounds per game in the NBA Finals earning MVP honors. It would be the first of three straight championships for the Lakers.
Since signing Shaquille O’Neal and acquiring Kobe Bryant in a draft-day trade in 1996, the Los Angeles Lakers were among the top teams in the Western Conference but were unable to translate it into playoff success. As they moved into a new arena, the Lakers looking back at the Chicago Bulls’ dynasty hired Phil Jackson to be their new coach. Under Jackson, the Lakers posted the best record in the NBA at 67-15. In the playoffs, the Lakers were pushed to a fifth game against the Sacramento Kings in the best-of-five first round. The Lakers quickly eclipsed the Phoenix Suns in five games to reach the Western Conference Finals. Against the Portland Trail Blazers, the Lakers nearly blew a 3-1 lead, needing a historic comeback in the fourth quarter to win Game 7.
The Indiana Pacers in the last half of the 90s became one of the top teams in the Eastern Conference, only to come away with bitter disappointment. From 1994-1999 they played in the Eastern Conference Finals four times, losing each one in heartbreak fashion, with three losses coming in a seventh game. Led by Larry Bird, the Pacers finished 56-26 in the 1999/00 season, gaining the top seed in the East. In the first round, the Pacers survived a scare against the Milwaukee Bucks, as they won in five games, as they took the finale 96-95 as Travis Best hit the game-winner with 16.5 seconds left. In the second round, the Pacers needed six games to beat the Philadelphia 76ers to set up a meeting with the archrival New York Knicks in the Eastern Conference Finals. The Pacers finally slayed the dragon, winning the Conference Finals in six games.
The Lakers dominated the opener, winning 104-87. Leading the charge was Shaquille O’Neal, who was a one-man force, scoring 43 points with 19 rebounds. The nightmarish game for Indiana saw Reggie Miller held to seven points as he made just one of 16 shots. Shaq continued to dominate in Game 2, scoring 40 points with 24 rebounds as the Lakers won 111-104. Ron Harper and Glenn Rice each had 21 points for LA, who took a 2-0 series lead. Not all news was good for the Lakers, as Kobe Bryant was sidelined early in the game with an ankle injury.
As the series shifted to the Conseco Fieldhouse, which also was in its first season, the Lakers learned early they would be without Kobe Bryant for Game 3. Reggie Miller, who struggled in each of the first two games, was finally hitting his shot, scoring 33 points, matching the output of Shaquille O’Neal. Jalen Rose proved to be the x-factor as the Pacers won 100-91. Kobe Bryant returned for Game 4 and had his best game of the series with 28 points. The Pacers meanwhile got 35 from Reggie as the game went into overtime. Despite fouling out, Shaq had a game-high 36 points with 21 points as the Lakers won 120-118, with Kobe hitting three clutch buckets as Miller’s three-pointer at the buzzer was off the mark.
Down 3-1, the Pacers face elimination in Game 5. With Jalen Rose scoring 32 and Reggie Miller adding 21, the game would be all Indiana, as the won 120-87. Despite the 33-point win, the Pacers still could not stop Shaquille O’Neal, who scored 35 points with 11 rebounds, continuing to manhandle Rik Smits in the middle.
Trying to fight back and force a seventh game, the Pacers came out strong in Game 6 at Staples Center as Mark Jackson hit a shot from half-court at the buzzer to give Indiana a 26-24 lead at the end of the first quarter. The Pacers would hold the lead most of the game, but could never pull away. In the fourth quarter, the Lakers begin to take control as Robert Horry, and Rick Fox hit back-to-back three-pointers. This was followed by Brian Shaw setting up a fast break to Shaq to take the lead for good. Shaquille O’Neal scored 41 points with 12 rebounds as the Lakers clinched the title with a 116-111 victory.