SACRAMENTO .The Lakers defeated the Sacramento Kings, 112-106,
in overtime Sunday night at Arco Arena, won the Western Conference
finals in seven games and will play the New Jersey Nets in a best-of-seven
series beginning Wednesday night at Staples Center.
O'Neal and Bryant
showed that they have the determination to match their talent.
Both played to the point of exhaustion, with O'Neal collecting
35 points, 13 rebounds and four blocks in 50 minutes and Bryant
added 30, 10 and seven assists while sitting just scant seconds
in the second quarter.
The superstars got
some help, too. Starters Fox, Robert Horry and Derek Fisher --
all part of the Lakers' last two title teams -- each scored in
When it appeared
these Lakers would not leave the wake they did in their previous
two championship seasons, they became the first Laker team to
win a Game 7 on the road, in the first overtime Game 7 ever played
in the conference finals.
They'll play the
Nets to become the fifth team to win at least three consecutive
It was, as it turned
out, still about the Lakers, still about what they do to the NBA,
not what it does to them. Down, three games to two, in the series,
the Lakers won the next two games, both behind a resurgent O'Neal.
The Kings were, perhaps, the best team they'd seen in their 11
consecutive postseason series.
The Lakers scored
the final eight points of overtime, on a short turn-around jumper
and then two free throws each by O'Neal, Derek Fisher and Bryant.
From a 106-104 lead,
the Kings missed five shots and committed two turnovers, the first
when Hedo Turkoglu forced a pass that Bryant poked away from Chris
Webber, the second when Robert Horry deflected another pass. Already
the Kings had missed 14 of 30 free-throw attempts, could not hold
a one-point lead with 38 seconds left in regulation or a two-point
lead with two minutes left in the overtime.
And then one of the
greatand longestseries in NBA history was done, and
Bryant fell into O'Neal's arms. He had played 52 minutes, equaling
his career high. O'Neal played 51.
Bryant found Mike
Bibby, who all but wrecked them all for 16 days, and held him
too, and whispered what a wonderful player he was, and told Bibby
that he knew what made him take big shots, and make big shots,
in the biggest moments.
Bibby scored 29 points,
four in the overtime, 12 in the fourth quarter. With 2:58 left,
Bibby made an open jumper from about 19 feet. He brought the Kings
to within 91-90. Coach Phil Jackson stormed from the Laker bench
and shouted for a timeout and then screamed at his players twice.
Bryant threw a towel
at the bench, and Horry and Jackson stood tensely for a moment
on the floor, Jackson punctuating his words by pointing to the
spot where Bibby made his shot, Horry doing the same. He had that
effect on them, until he was gone.
Horry, who had made
the game-winning three-pointer in Game 4 and had 16 points and
12 rebounds here, stood at mid-court and fired a salute into the
crowd, his smile as crooked as his gait.
Fox, who had called
out the Kings in the days before the series, pulled his jersey
over his head and whipped it in the air. He had a playoff career-high
14 rebounds, and was aggressive to the basket on a few late possessions
when the Lakers leaned toward timid.
Fisher, who had a
difficult series defending Bibby and shooting, made all four of
his free throws in overtime.
If the Kings gave
an early clue that the pressure was getting to them, it came midway
through the first quarter after Bryant drove past everybody for
Bibby missed a reverse
layup, Divac clanged a jumper, Turkoglu and Divac each missed
a pair from the line and Bibby missed another jump shot. The Lakers
capitalized on the cold spell to take a 20-13 lead on a 3-pointer
by Fox -- his only basket of the first half.
Bryant had a dozen
points in the second quarter and O'Neal had 11, keeping the Lakers
within range as the Kings played from ahead for most of the quarter.
The game stayed tight though the third quarter, with Bibby drawing
O'Neal's third foul on a reach-in
with 2.4 seconds left. He made one of two from the line to give
the Kings a 74-73 edge heading into the fourth.
Webber drew a technical
foul less than two minutes into the fourth for complaining about
a non-call, then missed his next two shots before making a dunk
to cut the Kings deficit to 87-86 with 5:13 left.
In the final two
minutes of regulation, the lead changed hands four times. Bibby
made a jumper for a 94-93 lead, and then Horry made a three-pointer
from the top for a 96-94 lead.
Vlade Divac made
a put-back of a Turkoglu miss for a 96-96 tie, and then Bryant
made one of two free-throw attempts with 46.3 seconds left, for
a 97-96 lead. Divac fouled out on a loose-ball scramble, sending
Bryant to the line, forcing the Kings to defend O'Neal with Webber
for however long it would take to determine a winner.
Bibby then made a
20-footer, even as O'Neal and Bryant charged at him, for a one-point
King lead, and Bryant made two free throws for a Laker lead. O'Neal
made one free throw and Bibby made two, tying the score at 100,
giving the ball to the Lakers with 8.2 seconds left.
O'Neal missed a 14-footer
and Bryant and Horry both missed taps around the rim before the
Jackson hasn't lost
a playoff series since the Eastern Conference semifinals in 1995
against O'Neal and the Orlando Magic.