- The Washington Times - Monday, June 10, 2002

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. After dropping the first two games of the NBA Finals to the Los Angeles Lakers, New Jersey Nets coach Byron Scott still harbored hope albeit minute he could convince his underdog team they still had a chance to get back into the series.
After last night no amount of cajoling by Scott or anyone else, for that matter could convince the Nets of that.
Last night they played their best game against the Lakers, rallying from a double-digit first-half deficit. And late in the fourth quarter the Nets even had the audacity to lead by seven points.
But the Lakers vaporized that advantage, restoring the lead they held most of the game with a lightning-quick run, and never relinquished it on the way to a 106-103 victory and a commanding 3-0 lead in the series.
After it was over, even Scott, his team once again taken apart by the awesome duo of Kobe Bryant and Shaquille O'Neal (71 points between them), was ready to concede.
"That's the type of basketball that I was looking for out of our guys in the first two games," Scott said. "Tonight you got a chance to see some of the best players in the world go at it. Unfortunately they have two of the best in the world.
"The way we're looking at this now is that, all this is for our team now is a learning experience. We've got Jason [Kidd], and he's the best player in the world at his position. And we've got some young guys who are headed in that direction. But their guys right now are the best. Kobe made some big shots out there today."
And none was as large at the one he hit with 19.1 seconds left and the game's outcome still undecided. Guarded closely by NBA first-team All-Defensive selection Kidd and Kerry Kittles, Bryant somehow emerged from a scrum in the lane to sink a twisting and turning 9-foot jumper that pushed the lead to 104-100. As the ball swirled through the bottom of the net, a collective sigh could be heard from the 19,215 fans crowded into sold-out Continental Airlines Arena.
"It was one of the toughest shots of my career," said Bryant, who finished with a game-high 36 points on 14-for-23 shooting. "Kidd was running after the ball, and he's got those strong hands. If they had gotten possession, they would have gotten the game into overtime, and who knows what can happen in that situation."
The Nets closed within 104-102, but the Lakers' Rick Fox secured victory with a pair of free throws with 3.5 seconds to go.
With their win last night, the Lakers have won seven consecutive finals games, including the final four of last year's 4-1 bludgeoning of the 76ers. And a win here Wednesday in Game 4 would give them their third title in as many seasons and stamp them as a team for the ages
O'Neal, well on his way to winning his third consecutive finals MVP award, finished with 35 points on 12-for-19 shooting. He also grabbed 11 rebounds to help the Lakers forge a 40-27 rebounding advantage. O'Neal also recorded four of the Lakers' 10 blocked shots. Derrick Fisher, who finished with 13, was the only other Laker to score in double digits.
Kidd led the Nets with 30 points, making 12 of 23 shots, and he also handed out a game-high 10 assists. Forward Kenyon Martin, who made 11 of 17 field goals, finished with 26 points.
In the first two games of this series the Lakers appeared to be toying with the Nets, building up leads of 23 and 20 points, respectively. Last night the Lakers' largest lead came in the first half, when they led by as many as 14.
Put in this uncompromising position the Nets could have given up. However, with the deficit not as large as the previous two games, plus the added support of a suddenly raucous home crowd, the Nets closed out the third quarter on a 15-5 run to tie the score at 78-78 and set the stage for the final quarter.
But after watching the Lakers take control of the game and the series in the fourth quarter, Scott, who won three championships as a player for the Lakers, sounded like he had no clue how to prevent a sweep.
"Obviously the light is starting to flicker a little bit," Scott said.
Bryant, who has been making a habit of wearing jerseys of players from other sports, last night came out wearing a Wayne Gretzky model. And when he was asked about how good this Lakers team is and whether any team could beat them four times in a series, Bryant was emphatic.
"No, I don't think so. I don't think there's a team out there that can do that. We're playing extremely well right now," he said.
Well enough for the sweep?
"I'm not saying that," Bryant continued. "What I'm saying is I believe in our system; I believe in my teammates. Hopefully, we can come out and have a good game on Wednesday, and hopefully we can win the championship."
Notes
Faces in the crowd: golfer Phil Mickelson, comedians Billy Crystal and Chris Rock, Hall of Famer Bill Russell and commissioner David Stern sitting next to NBC Sports president Dick Ebersol.
Scattered throughout the crowd were plenty of fans wearing Lakers jerseys.
Lucious Harris ditched the face mask he had been wearing since the midpoint of the regular season. After going 1-for-15 from the field in Games 1 and 2, he was 1-for-5 without it.
The Nets lost for the first time in the postseason when they scored 100 points. They had been 6-0.
Kidd's career record against the Lakers dropped to 6-20.


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