- The Washington Times - Tuesday, June 20, 2000

LOS ANGELES Criticized for not being able to close out a team when it counted, the Los Angeles Lakers did just that last night with a 116-111 victory over the Indiana Pacers in Game 6 of the NBA Finals at Staples Center. The victory, which didn't come without some controversy, gave the Lakers their first NBA championship since 1988.

With the Lakers ahead 110-109, two questionable Indiana fouls enabled the Lakers to bolster their lead. With 1:13 left, the Lakers' Glen Rice hit a pair of free throws after a foul was called on Dale Davis. On the next Lakers possession, Austin Croshere was called for a foul on Kobe Bryant (26 points) that resulted in Bryant hitting both shots. It appeared Croshere blocked Bryant's shot cleanly, but the officiating crew saw otherwise.

Nonetheless, the Lakers' victory came the way most thought it would: with Shaquille O'Neal dominating the game. O'Neal, the Finals and regular season MVP, finished with 41 points and 11 rebounds. O'Neal averaged 38 points in the series.

Jalen Rose led Indiana with 29 points, and Reggie Miller finished with 25 in Larry Bird's last game as Pacers coach.

The Pacers were in it until the end. After scoring almost 60 points on the vaunted Lakers' defense in the first half, the Pacers showed their resiliency in the third quarter. The Lakers closed within 71-70 with seven straight points. But the Pacers would not yield and instead built the lead back to 80-74. Bryant and O'Neal closed the Lakers within 80-79. But a pair of free throws by Miller and a quarter-ending basket by Rose nudged the lead to 84-79 heading into the fourth quarter.

But the Lakers continued to chip away at the Pacers' lead, and their persistence paid off. They opened the fourth quarter with a 15-6 run and took a 94-90 lead on Rick Fox's 3-pointer with 8:21 left in the game. That lead grew to 99-92 when O'Neal slammed home a miss by Bryant.

The Pacers tied the game at 103-103 on Rose's 3 with 5:04 left, but Los Angeles responded with seven straight points to go ahead 110-103 with a little more than three minutes left in the game.

Indiana played the opening quarter like it was the team within a game of the championship. Indiana power forward Dale Davis neutralized the usually dominant O'Neal by scoring nine points and grabbing eight rebounds. The Pacers, who had shot less than 40 percent from the floor in their three losses here to the Lakers, made 50 percent of their shots from the field.

Mark Jackson ended the Pacers' productive first quarter with the unlikeliest of plays. Following Bryant's basket, the Pacers called timeout. On the inbounds pass, Jackson, guarded halfheartedly by Bryant, corralled the ball, pivoted and launched a 40-footer that barely ruffled the net with 0.1 seconds left.

The Pacers' aggressive play carried over into the second quarter, when they built their lead as high as 12 points with 6:43 to play in the half.

The Lakers talked about how they wanted to win get one win in Indianapolis, which they did in overtime in Game 4, and promised they would come back to Staples Center and play with authority in front of their hometown fans. But for most of the first half, only O'Neal, who had 21 points by halftime, did that. Most of the Lakers played lethargically at both ends of the court until late in the quarter.

With the Pacers holding a 53-43 lead after Rose's running hook shot in the lane with 2:56 left in the first half, the Lakers finally showed signs of life. Defensively, they held the Pacers to just one more basket in the quarter, Austin Croshere's 3-pointer with 1:15 to play. Meanwhile, the Lakers closed the quarter with a 10-3 run that featured some of their staples: a power slam by O'Neal, a long jumper from Rice and a 3 from Bryant with 2.9 seconds left in the half that pulled Los Angeles within 56-53 at the half.

But the Lakers seemed to forget early on what got them back into the game at the start of the third quarter. Instead of working the ball into the unstoppable O'Neal, the Lakers were again settling for jumpers, errant ones, that resulted in fast-break opportunities for the Pacers that again enabled them to push the lead back to 67-59 advantage.

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