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Lakers sweep aside Nets, make history

6/13/2002

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- Phil Jackson likes to light up a cigar after a victory, much like a certain Boston Celtics head coach who had a knack for winning championships.

"A lot of times, I don't smoke that cigar," Jackson said before Game 4 of
the NBA Finals. "But it's symbolic."

Jackson has more in common with Red Auerbach now than just a penchant for a postgame celebratory smoke.

Jackson tied Auerbach for the most NBA titles Wednesday night when his Los Angeles Lakers won their third straight championship -- and Jackson's ninth as an NBA head coach -- with a 113-107 victory over the New Jersey Nets at Continental Airlines Arena.

The victory allowed Jackson to surpass Pat Riley for most playoff coaching wins with 156. It also completed something the Showtime Lakers of Magic Johnson and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar never accomplished: an NBA Finals sweep and win three straight world titles.

"It is remarkable that I'm sitting here in a situation that I never dreamed of," said Jackson, who won his first championship with Chicago 11 years ago to the day of his ninth crown. "I've been very fortunate to be in this position."

"You appreciate him," Rick Fox said of Jackson. "You appreciate him because, when he's gone, you'll realize how much of an impact he's actually had."

"It all goes hand in hand," said Johnson outside the Lakers' champagne-drenched locker room. "You've got to have a great coach to coach a great team. ... (And) if he (Jackson) has more wins, you've got to put him No. 1."

Shaquille O'Neal made even more history by joining Michael Jordan as the only players ever to win three Finals MVP awards in a row and setting the scoring mark for most points in a four-game Finals series. His team-high 34 points gave him 145, surpassing Hakeem Olajuwon's 131 in 1995.

O'Neal averaged 36.3 points and 12.3 rebounds and set four-game Finals records with 45 free throws and 68 free-throw attempts.

"I'd like to congratulate Phil for bringing out the best in us," said O'Neal, who relished the idea of winning a championship in New Jersey, where he was born and raised until the fifth grade. "He gave us a plan when we first met him. He gave me a plan when we first met him. He promised us if we stuck to the plan that everything would work out. I'm just glad that (former Lakers general manager) Jerry West was able to get him to sign up."

To finish off the Nets, the Lakers had to erase a 34-27 deficit after one quarter and withstand another late New Jersey comeback. Down 84-80 after three, the Nets charged ahead at 87-84 in the final period on a 7-0 spurt fueled by Jason Kidd, but the Lakers went on a 22-10 run to take control.

Five different Lakers scored during the decisive stretch. Kobe Bryant started the Lakers' final title drive with a 3-pointer to tie the game at 87, and O'Neal fittingly concluded it with a pair of free throws with 4:05 remaining.

Bryant scored nine of his 25 points in the final quarter. Kenyon Martin led the Nets with a game-high 35 points, while Kidd had a sub-par game with 13 points (on 5-of-14 shooting) and five rebounds but did record 12 assists.

"You have to tip your hat off to them. They were the best team," Kidd said. "Unfortunately, we just couldn't get it done in this series."

Martin made it clear early that he was on a mission to delay the Lakers' party. The fiery and flagrant-foul prone forward was everywhere in scoring 17 first-quarter points to power the Nets to a 34-27 lead, and lost control of his temper momentarily in the midst of a 19-7 run when he got nailed for a technical foul after protesting a foul call.

Afterward, Martin's biggest beef wasn't with the refs or Lakers. It was with his teammates. While he didn't name names, Martin couldn't have been happy about the performances of Keith Van Horn and Kerry Kittles, who combined for just 18 points on 7-for-17 shooting.

"Some guys don't have it in them. That's the hardest thing to deal with," said Martin, who also had a game-high 11 rebounds. "Guys come to play every day and some guys, you don't know when they're going to show up. ... I can deal with losing. But guys who don't bring it every day? That's something I can't deal with."

It'll be hard for Byron Scott to get over how New Jersey's dream season ended. The Nets doubled their win total from 26 to 52 in the regular season, won the Atlantic Division and ended up winning the Eastern Conference -- only to have their title hopes swept away in four consecutive defeats.

"I wanted this season to continue," Scott said. "I'm disappointed that we didn't take it further. But I'm also very, very proud of my guys."

Game notes
After 14 seasons, Mitch Richmond finally found himself on a championship team. Only Jerome Kersey (15 seasons) waited longer. "I didn't play as much as I wanted to, but it's still one of the best seasons for me," said Richmond, who sank the Lakers' final shot and held the ball as time ran out. ... Robert Horry won his fifth ring, his first two coming with the Houston Rockets. "I got a handful," he said. "Now I've got to start on the other hand." ... The Lakers have 14 championships in their franchise's history, nine in Los Angeles and five in Minneapolis.

Joe Lago is the NBA editor for ESPN.com.