The Los Angeles Lakers entered the 2001-02 campaign well atop the NBA, standing as a dynasty in the making. With two championships already under their belt, Phil Jackson, Kobe Bryant, and Shaquille O’Neal wouldn’t accept anything less than a three-peat.
With a 58-24 record, Los Angeles earned the third seed in the Western Conference, pitted against the Portland Trail Blazers in the first round. There was no love lost between these two title contenders over the years, forming a bitter rivalry that included the historic Bryant lob to O’Neal.
Both teams had their respective cores still intact going into the playoff matchup, but Portland was missing a key piece in the middle. Arvydas Sabonis wouldn’t suit up for the Trail Blazers during the 2001-02 season, after announcing his retirement.
Although he returned the following season, his presence and basketball IQ in the middle was a big void to fill, especially against O’Neal.
Jackson started Game 3 with Derek Fisher, Bryant, Rick Fox, Samaki Walker, and O’Neal, while head coach Maurice Cheeks countered with Damon Stoudamire, Bonzi Wells, Scottie Pippen, Rasheed Wallace, and Dale Davis.
The Lakers used the confines of Staples Center to their advantage, escaping with a 2-0 lead. However, the series shifted back to the Rose Garden Arena on this day in Lakers history, setting the stage for a must-win Game 3 for Portland on April 28, 2002. The game started off rather chippy, with both teams not bending against each another.
The game was tied 19-19 after the first quarter, with a combined 10 turnovers. However, the shifting picked up in the second quarter for the Lakers, with a complete team effort.
Portland’s gameplan involved being content with continually sending O’Neal to the foul line, using offseason acquisition Davis to try to roughen O’Neal up. Davis would go on to foul out, but did little to stop O’Neal.
The future Hall-of-Famer boasted his ability to knock down free throws when the counted, as he went 11-for-16 in Game 3. O’Neal was only able to attempt 11 shots the entire game, knocking down five of them while consistently dealing with double-teams in the paint.
At the same time, role players like Brian Shaw, Derek Fisher, and Devean George played their part, spacing the floor for O’Neal and Bryant. The role players of the Lakers were ideal fits put in place by Jackson, as they each brought forth a certain grittiness that the team needed around their stars.
The Lakers went into halftime with a 50-41 lead, with a half left until they clinched a first-round sweep. On the brink of elimination, the Trail Blazers came out hot in the second half, beginning the third quarter with an 8-0 run.
Stoudamire, Wallace, and Pippen each had at least six points in the quarter, as the game was tied 67-67 going into the final quarter. The fourth and final quarter then turned into a back-and-forth slugfest, with both teams delivering blow after blow.
Although the Lakers held an 84-82 lead with four minutes left, the Trail Blazers showed signs of life and put together a 7-0 run. With a five-point lead, the Trail Blazers had the game wrapped up with less than a minute remaining. However, the Lakers responded with a quick inbounds play that set up a Fox layup, cutting the lead to three.
Wallace then knocked down one of two free throws, giving his team a 90-86 lead. The Lakers countered with a Bryant and O’Neal pick-and-roll from the top, which resulted in a Bryant 3-pointer that cut the lead to a single point.
The momentum was slowly shifting in favor of the Lakers, as the Rose Garden silenced when Pippen stepped to the line. After swishing his first free throw, Pippen hit the back of the rim and saw the ball fall into Fox’s hands.
The Lakers then called a timeout, with Jackson setting up a final play to steal Game 3 and clinch the series. Bryant received the inbounds, isolated against elite defender Ruben Patterson. After a hesitation, Bryant drove to his right, looking like he is going straight to the basket.
However, Pippen dropped from the corner to help Patterson, leaving none other than Horry wide open. In front of the Trail Blazers bench, Horry received and knocked down the game-winning 3-pointer from the corner, giving the Lakers a 92-91 lead.
Portland then faltered during their inbounds play with three seconds left, sealing the victory and series for the Lakers. Before that shot, Horry was 2-for-8 from the field, including 0-for-3 from the three-point line.
However, Horry made a career out of hitting clutch shots, part of the reason why he would go on to win seven championships during his career.