After cruising to a quick 3-0 series lead over the New Jersey Nets in the 2002 NBA Finals, the Los Angeles Lakers found themselves on the brink of history. One more win would assure a three-peat for the franchise — a rarity that has occurred in only four other instances.
The Finals resumed on June 12, 2002, for Game 4, where the Lakers looked to finish the job at Continental Airlines Arena. The Nets, however, jumped out to an early seven-point lead with home-court advantage on their side.
Los Angeles would storm back in the second quarter, outscoring New Jersey by eight points, and carried a one-point advantage into halftime. The next 12 minutes of play saw the Lakers’ defense tighten up, as they held the Nets to only 23 points in the period.
With a four-point lead intact, Los Angeles entered the fourth with momentum on their side. Despite New Jersey’s efforts, it was the Lakers that closed out strong to earn a marginal 113-107 victory en route to their third consecutive NBA championship.
Shaquille O’Neal propelled Los Angeles to victory with a team-high 34 points and 10 rebounds in 43 minutes of action. He shot 12-of-20 from the field and additionally tallied one steal and two blocks on the defensive end.
That performance helped O’Neal solidify MVP honors for the third consecutive year. In the four-game series, he averaged 36.3 points, 12.3 rebounds and 3.8 assists per contest.
What’s more, O’Neal set an NBA record for most points (145) in a four-game Finals series. That eclipsed Hakeem Olajuwon’s mark of 131, which was previously set in 1995 against O’Neal’s Orlando Magic.
Further history was made, as the Finals win allowed Lakers head coach Phil Jackson to capture his ninth of 11 eventual NBA championships. That figure tied Hall-of-Fame head coach Red Auerbach’s total of nine titles with the Boston Celtics.
The 2000-02 Lakers still stands as the most recent team in NBA history to three-peat. The Golden State Warriors threatened to accomplish the feat but their quest fell short with a loss to the Toronto Raptors in the 2019 NBA Finals.