It is hard to believe but it has been 20 years since the Los Angeles Lakers won their 12th NBA championship in franchise history and the first of the three-peat area featuring Kobe Bryant and Shaquille O’Neal.
Under Phil Jackson, the Lakers implemented the triangle offense which heavily featured O’Neal in the post with Bryant supporting from the perimeter. The duo would help lead Los Angeles to the best regular season record in the NBA and marched into the playoffs as a favorite for the title.
However, the Lakers ran into a formidable opponent when they played the Portland Trail Blazers in the 2000 Western Conference Finals. The Blazers boasted a talented and deep roster headlined by the likes of Scottie Pippen, Rasheed Wallace and Bonzi Wells.
While O’Neal was already a bonafide super star in the league, Bryant was still making his mark and according to Howard Beck of Bleacher Report, Damon Stoudamire and the Trail Blazers attempted to take advantage of that:
“People forget, Kobe was just evolving into Kobe. This was still the young Kobe Bryant. So in those playoffs, I would start games off guarding Kobe. We’re trying to play mind games with him, because obviously I can’t guard Kobe like that. We knew Kobe was so bull-headed and he was so determined, he’s gonna go in the box, right? So Kobe wants the box in the triangle, but Shaq is obviously the most dominant player in the game at that time. So it’s like Kobe’s trying to go down to the box and post me up.”
Baiting Bryant in to trying to score over Portland’s defenders proved to be effective and they eventually pushed Los Angeles to a Game 7. The Trail Blazers had a double-digit lead in the fourth quarter before the Lakers put on a furious rally to take the lead late in the game.
Of course, the ending of that game contains one of the most iconic plays in NBA history as Bryant crossed over Pippen at the top of the key and found O’Neal for a lob that effectively gave the Lakers the win.
That play may have single-handedly changed the franchise’s fortunes as it would propel them to the NBA Finals where they overtook the Indiana Pacers in six games. Bryant would later go on to establish himself as one of the premier players in the league and helped the Lakers win four more titles.
Lakers focused on honoring Kobe
As the Lakers pursued the franchise’s 17th title, they made it a point to recognize Bryant’s memory and acknowledge they wanted to win the championship for him.
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