The Los Angeles Lakers stood tall over the rest of the NBA throughout the 2001-02 NBA season, looking to cement their dynasty with the three-peat. Led by Kobe Bryant and Shaquille O’Neal, they entered March 2002 with a 39-17 record.
Their first contest of the month saw them back at Staples Center, as they faced 2000 NBA Finals opponent Reggie Miller and the Indiana Pacers. The contest was a reunion of sorts for two different positions.
The more important note involved it being O’Neal’s first game against Brad Miller since he threw a haymaker punch that grazed his ear. O’Neal was suspended for three games because of that altercation.
It also was a premier matchup at the shooting guard position, with two fierce competitors in Bryant and Miller going at it. Although there was no love lost between these two teams, it seemed tempered early on.
The Lakers got out to a 26-16 lead after the first quarter, with O’Neal making his presence felt. Indiana was able to rebound by outscoring the Lakers by two points in the second, but still faced a 49-41 deficit going into halftime.
The catalysts for the Pacers turned out to be Ron Artest and Jamal Tinsley, who would combine for 34 points to keep the game close. Their momentum carried over into the second half, as they brought the lead down to just two points going into the fourth.
So far, cooler heads seemed to prevail, as there were no testy altercations between the two teams. However, things would take a turn for the worse towards the conclusion of the game.
Los Angeles put together a fierce rally to open up their lead, gaining a comfortable position throughout the majority of the quarter. As the final few minutes passed, the Lakers ran the clock out to a 96-84 victory.
From there, things would turn spiral downward, as Miller and Bryant were seen jawing words at each other. The All-Stars then were face to face, in what turned into a physical altercation.
A few jabs were exchanged before the pair tangled with one another and fell over onto the scorer’s table. It seemed to start after Bryant shot a late three with the shot clock winding down, which Miller didn’t take lightly.
After exchanging words at halfcourt, they raised fists towards each other, and the teammates from both the Lakers and Pacers rushed towards the commotion. From there it was every man for themselves, with O’Neal proving to be the biggest difference maker.
Not only did he collect 33 points, 12 rebounds and six blocks, but he was moving Pacers out of the way to protect Bryant toward the bottom of the pile. Robert Horry was also seen yanking a Pacers player to the floor, with Pacer Austin Croshere having his jersey pulled down towards his pants.
Jermaine O’Neal had to be held back by Jackson, while Artest and Pacers coach Isiah Thomas played peacemaker. Both players would end up being suspended for two games following the fight.