The Los Angeles Lakers were a dominant force during their three-peat championship run with Kobe Bryant and Shaquille O’Neal. Perhaps the greatest 1-2 punch in NBA history, the two determined scorers were too great of an ordeal for many NBA Teams.
Fresh off of back-to-back championships, the Lakers entered the 2001-02 season standing atop the NBA, with two future Hall-of-Famers and head coach Phil Jackson guiding an experienced roster. And on Dec. 5, 2001, the Lakers defeated the Dallas Mavericks to set a franchise record for best start to a season.
Entering their matchup at 15-1, nine of the Lakers’ wins had been by double-digits. The Mavericks got out to a strong first half, taking a 55-48 lead into the third quarter.
The Lakers were playing with somewhat of a depleted roster, as Bryant was dealing with flu-like symptoms before and throughout the game. At the same time, veteran Devean George left the game with a back injury.
The Lakers would have to rely on O’Neal to provide the spark for this team, which he did. He had his way with the Mavericks, leading a second-half comeback by cutting the deficit to four points entering the fourth.
It was from there the Lakers stamped their championship seal onto this game, limiting the Mavericks to just 15 points in the entire fourth quarter. While trailing for most of the game, Los Angeles tied the contest at 92 with less than a minute remaining.
They were then able to take the lead on four free throws from Rick Fox, which would go on to solidify a 98-94 victory. O’Neal finished the game with a season-high 46 points, proving too much for Shawn Bradley to handle.
After the win, O’Neal alluded to a pre-game motivation that he received courtesy of Mavericks owner Mark Cuban. Prior to the game, Cuban was alleging that the referees need to watch the center at the free throw line, stating he was crossing the line with each shot.
Little did he know that was all it took to fuel O’Neal’s fire.