- The Washington Times - Thursday, June 14, 2001

LAKERS 100, 76ERS 86

PHILADELPHIA Because so much has been made about the burning fire and grit the Philadelphia 76ers have exhibited in these playoffs, the dominant play of the defending champion Los Angeles Lakers has been somewhat overlooked.

Last night the Lakers came one step closer to putting out that fire and moving toward the inevitable the top of the basketball world.

With their Shaquille O'Neal-driven 100-86 romp last night at First Union Center, the Lakers took a 3-1 lead in the NBA Finals. They can wrap up their second consecutive title here tomorrow night.

O'Neal led the one-sided affair with 34 points and 14 rebounds, while fellow superstar Kobe Bryant contributed 19 points, 10 rebounds and nine assists. The Lakers made 10 of 19 shots from behind the 3-point line.

The Lakers shot 50 percent from the field. The Sixers were horrible even at the free throw line, where they made just 19 of 30.

The Lakers played with the confidence, poise and tenacity that have marked their playoff run since it began in late April with the humiliation of the dysfunctional Portland Trail Blazers. Since that time, the Lakers have suffered just one loss to the Sixers in Game 1.

Against a Philadelphia team that has gone to Game 7s twice in these playoffs, the Lakers stripped the Sixers naked in their own building for most of the night.

The Lakers led by as many as 22 points in the third quarter. And when the Sixers rallied with an 11-0 run at the start of the fourth quarter to cut the lead to 77-70, the Lakers used an O'Neal basket and back-to-back 3-pointers to restore the lead to a comfortable 85-70.

The Sixers' task was daunting enough coming into the series, and now they are fighting history as well as a Lakers team that seems focused on what appears to be its destiny. Although two teams have forced a Game 7 in the finals after falling behind 3-1, no team has ever come back from that deficit to win the title.

In the days between the Lakers' victory in Game 3 on Sunday and last night's game, O'Neal complained Sixers center Dikembe Mutombo flopped on defense to get foul calls rather than play him straight up. O'Neal even said he has never been able to demonstrate all of his skills in the eight seasons he has been in the league.

This wasn't the case in the first half. He hit the short jumper, and he powered home dunks, some of them right in Mutombo's face. However, his most impressive play came on an assist to Ron Harper.

Facing a triple team down low, O'Neal found a slashing Harper cutting to the basket. Harper, fouled on the play, converted the 3-point play to give the Lakers a 37-26 lead with 5:20 left in the half.

The play seemed to take the First Union crowd out of the game. Shortly thereafter, following three 3-pointers in a row, the Lakers' lead was 46-29.

While the 76ers struggled against the Los Angeles defense they made just 34 percent of their shots in the first half and shot 42.9 percent for the game the Lakers appeared back in the groove that saw them dispatch the best teams in the Western Conference with the ease of a giant swatting away a flea.

Although Sixers star Allen Iverson shot the ball miserably (12-for-30 for the game), he and Mutombo still combined to score 26 of the 76ers' 37 first-half points. Iverson finished with 35 points overall, while Mutombo had 19 points and nine rebounds.

In Game 2 of this series, the Lakers fell in line behind O'Neal, who scored 20 points and grabbed 11 rebounds in the first half alone.

The 76ers led momentarily at 4-1, but it wasn't long before O'Neal and Co. took an 8-6 lead on Shaq's turnaround with 7:05 left in the first quarter.

The Sixers have been banged up and nicked up throughout the playoffs. Last night saw the return of small forward George Lynch, a former starter who had not played since breaking a bone in his foot in Game 4 of the conference semifinals against the Toronto Raptors. He was not a factor, playing just five minutes and going scoreless.

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