- The Washington Times - Monday, June 11, 2001

LAKERS 96, 76ERS 91

PHILADELPHIA No Shaq, no problem.

The Los Angeles Lakers, forced to play the end of the game without center Shaquille O'Neal after he fouled out, hung on to defeat the Philadelphia 76ers 96-91 last night in front of 20,900 at First Union Center. The win gave Los Angeles a 2-1 edge in the best-of-7 NBA Finals and restored the Lakers' homecourt advantage, which the team lost in Game 1.

With O'Neal on the bench for the last 2:21, Lakers forward Robert Horry came up big for the defending champions and scored Los Angeles' final seven points. He finished with 15 overall including 12 in the fourth quarter.

"He hit some big shots, and he hit some big free throws," O'Neal said. "I knew that my guys were going to come here and hit big shots. We had to win this game and we got it. We're going to try to do the same thing on Wednesday [in Game 4]."

Kobe Bryant, who received a hostile reception in the city where he was born, led the Lakers with 32 points. Allen Iverson led the 76ers with 35 points and a career playoff-high 12 rebounds, the same number grabbed by O'Neal. Neither Bryant nor Iverson shot well from the floor. Bryant was 13-for-30 including just 3-for-14 in the second half while Iverson was 12-for-30.

O'Neal, who played 41 minutes despite the foul trouble, finished with 30 points and blocked four shots. 76ers center Dikembe Mutombo battled O'Neal in the middle, finishing with 23 points and 12 rebounds. He also blocked two shots.

But Horry's play down the stretch made the difference. Horry was 4-for-5 from the field and made all four of his free throws.

None of Horry's baskets was any bigger than the 3-pointer he hit in the final minute after the 76ers cut the lead to 89-88.

"Horry stepped up and made a huge shot," Sixers coach Larry Brown said. "He hit big shots, and he made some big free throws. You have to give credit to [Lakers coach Phil Jackson]. He went to his bench, and he got some great play out of those guys. Look at Horry. Fifteen points, and he took just five shots."

Horry came back even bigger not long thereafter. After the Sixers closed the lead to 92-91 on three free throws by Iverson, Horry sealed the victory with four free throws in the final 21.3.

"I don't know why anyone is surprised," Bryant said about Horry. "He's been doing that for years."

The Sixers caught somewhat of a break late in the third quarter when O'Neal picked up his third and fourth fouls of the game within 15 seconds of each other with the Lakers leading 69-61.

O'Neal claimed Mutombo flopped on some of the foul calls, including the one that forced him from the game.

"I don't think the best defensive player in the game would be flopping like that," O'Neal said. "It's a shame that the referees bought into that. I wish he'd stand up and play me like a man instead of flopping and crying every time I back him down. It's just a shame. You can quote me on that and underline it three times."

With O'Neal on the bench, the Sixers pulled within 71-66. But a long Bryant jumper in the final 30 seconds pushed the lead back to 73-66.

O'Neal stayed on the bench until 10:13 remained in the fourth, and the 76ers cut the lead to 73-70 on a basket by power forward Tyrone Hill, who had missed his first four shots.

But the resilient Lakers answered. A 3-pointer by Horry began a 9-3 Los Angeles run that restored the Lakers' lead to 82-73.

Bryant was the difference for the Lakers in the first half. After a 3-pointer by Horry gave the Lakers a 30-27 lead at the start of the second quarter, Bryant got on a roll with O'Neal taking a rest, hitting five baskets in a row and outscoring the 76ers by himself 10-3 to put the Lakers up 40-30.

"They were making shots," Iverson said. "They were making hard baskets. We were satisfied with the way we stopped their penetration. But you have to give them credit. The thing we have to do now is come back and get Game 4 on Wednesday."

When the Lakers put O'Neal back in the game, the lead reached 53-40 on an O'Neal turnaround with 1:28 left in the half.

Iverson, who must be brilliant every night for the Sixers to have a chance, started slowly but scored 14 points in the first half. The 76ers made almost 49 percent of their shots through two quarters.

The Lakers had their shooting touch early. With Bryant making 10 of 16 shots for 20 points and O'Neal hitting eight of nine from the free throw line on his way to 18 points, the Lakers were clearly in a rhythm, taking a 55-44 lead into the locker room.

"Every game is crucial now," Iverson said. "I don't think we're getting a lot of respect. I think people have already said that the outcome is decided. I know the Lakers respect us. They've got to. We haven't gotten blown out one time. We'll be here on Wednesday. We're not frustrated. We've come too far to get frustrated. It's just up to us to make sure we take care of the things we did wrong."

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