In the first season under head coach Phil Jackson, the Lakers flourished as a result of the dominance and leadership of league MVP Shaquille O’Neal, as well as the individual growth of their fourth-year guard in Kobe Bryant.
Role players such as Derek Fisher, Rick Fox, and Robert Horry had also developed into consistent contributors under Jackson’s triangle offense, and the additions of A.C. Green, Glen Rice, Brian Shaw and Ron Harper created the perfect balance between a young core and savvy veterans, making this team seam poised (on paper) to make a championship run in the 1999-2000 season.
The Lakers pranced through the regular season winning 67 games and clinching the number one overall seed in the playoffs. They experienced a tough break in the first round against the Sacramento Kings, and needed a final Game 5 on their home floor to put them away. In the second round, they blew past the Phoenix Suns in five games, resembling the team that most felt would ease their way to an NBA title during the regular season.
The greatest challenge for the Lakers en route to their NBA title in 2000 came during the Western Conference Finals against the Portland Trail Blazers. They had arguably one of the deepest rosters in NBA history with veterans such as Scottie Pippen, Rasheed Wallace, and Steve Smith comprising their experienced core group.
Through the first four games of the Western Conference Finals, the Lakers had seemingly accepted the challenge. They went up 3-1 against Portland, and looked as if they were on their way to the NBA Finals. However, the Blazers showed some pride in Games 5 and 6, storming back to tie the series at 3-3, forcing one more game at Staples Center.
June 4, 2000 will forever be a day of remembrance for Laker fans.
The Lakers struggled for the vast majority of Game 7 (trailing by as many as 15 points) until the 4th quarter. With legacies on the line and the weight of the seasons expectations on their shoulders, the Lakers found the strength to fight back and provide one of the most memorable games in the storied franchise’s history.
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