2002 NBA Finals
The 2002 NBA Finals was the 56th championship round of the National Basketball Association (NBA). The series started on June 5, 2002 and ended on June 12, marking the conclusion of the 2002 NBA Playoffs and 2001-02 NBA season. The first two games of the Finals were played at the STAPLES Center in Los Angeles, California because of their home court advantage and the last two games were played at Continental Airlines Arena in East Rutherford, New Jersey.
|New Jersey Nets||Los Angeles Lakers|
1st Atlantic, 1st East, 5th Overall
|Regular season||58-24 (.707)|
2nd Pacific, 3rd West, 4th overall
|Defeated the Indiana Pacers, 3–2||First Round||Defeated the Portland Trail Blazers, 3–0|
|Defeated the Charlotte Hornets, 4–1||Conference Semifinals||Defeated the San Antonio Spurs, 4–1|
|Defeated the Boston Celtics, 4–2||Conference Finals||Defeated the Sacramento Kings, 4–3|
New Jersey Nets
Entering the 2001–02 season, Nets were enduring a three-year playoff drought and had a dismal 73–141 record over that span. In 1999, the Nets hired Rod Thorn as team president and immediately, he hired the recently retired Byron Scott to coach New Jersey. Thorn then dealt for Stephon Marbury in a three-team trade with the Milwaukee Bucks and Minnesota Timberwolves, trading Sam Cassell away to the Bucks. Due to the Nets' dismal 31–51 season in 1999–00 season, they had the first overall pick in the 2000 NBA Draft, which they used to select power forward Kenyon Martin out of the University of Cincinnati. The following year with Marbury and Martin, who was named to All-Rookie Team, New Jersey remained a mediocre team, ending their campaign at 26–56 and were awarded the 7th pick in the upcoming Draft.
With another lottery pick, Thorn decided to deal it to the Houston Rockets for Richard Jefferson, Jason Collins and Brandon Armstrong. The next day, Phoenix Suns owner Jerry Colangelo announced a franchise shaking trade; the Suns would deal renowned point guard Jason Kidd for his All-Star New Jersey counterpart Marbury.
With a core of Kidd, Jefferson and Collins and veterans mixed in, the Nets rebounded in 2002 to finish 52–30, a twenty-six win improvement from the last season and clinched the number-one seed in the Eastern Conference. Kidd finished the season with honors such as 1st Team All-NBA, 1st Team All-Defensive Team, and an All-Star selection. He also finished runner-up to San Antonio Spurs power forward Tim Duncan in the Most Valuable Player voting. Richard Jefferson was an All-Rookie second team selection and Thorn, the architect of the Nets, was awarded with the 2002 NBA Executive of the Year by the Sporting News for this unheralded turnaround.
In the playoffs, New Jersey survived a scare against the Indiana Pacers, winning game five of the best-of-five series in double overtime to end the series. It was the first playoff series win since 1984. They then dismissed the Charlotte Hornets in five games of a best-of-seven series before meeting their Atlantic Division rivals, the Boston Celtics. The Nets and Celtics split the first two games in New Jersey before being tested in Boston. In Game 3 however, New Jersey blew a 21-point lead in the fourth quarter and were outscored 41-16 in the period to lose 90–94. Celtics' small forward Paul Pierce outscored the Nets himself with 19 of his 28 in the fourth, sparking the greatest fourth-quarter comeback in NBA playoff history.
The Nets rebounded in Game 4, and won 94-92 to tie the series at 2–2. New Jersey took control of the series and won the next two games to finish off the Boston in six games and earn the franchise's first NBA Finals appearance. With averages of 17.5 points, 11.2 rebounds, and 10.2 assists per game during the six-game Conference Finals, Kidd become only the fourth player in NBA history to average a triple-double over a course of a series and the second to have at least three.
Los Angeles Lakers
In stark contrast to New Jersey, the Los Angeles Lakers entered the season with high expectations, having won the last two NBA championships. In addition, Los Angeles was coming off of a 15–1(.938 winning percentage) run through the 2001 NBA Playoffs, the greatest in NBA history besting the 1983 Philadelphia 76ers 12–1(.923) run and were the first team to go undefeated on the road in the playoffs. Since Phil Jackson had arrived to coach the Lakers in 1999, they had a 123-41 mark in the regular season and a 28-9 record in the postseason.
Amid tensions between co-captains Shaquille O'Neal and Kobe Bryant, the franchise had another stellar season, finishing second in the Pacific Division and earning the third seed in the Western Conference. Bryant and O'Neal were voted starters in the 2002 NBA All-Star Game where Bryant won the game MVP trophy in hometown Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. The duo appeared on the All-NBA 1st Team and Bryant was honored with a 2nd Team All-Defensive Team selection.
The Lakers had strong start in the playoffs, finishing the Portland Trail Blazers in three with a Robert Horry series-ending shot. The San Antonio Spurs were dispatched in five before Los Angeles met their biggest challenge in the duration of their championship reign in the Western Conference Finals: the Sacramento Kings. With the best record in the West, the Kings held home court advantage against the Lakers and split the first two games in ARCO Arena before the series shifted to Staples Center.
Kobe Bryant showed strong poise in the Lakers' run through the playoffs.Sacramento blew out Los Angeles in Game 3 and led as much as 27 before settling with a 103-90 win. Game 4 looked to be the same, with the Kings leading the Lakers 40-20 at the end of the 1st quarter and holding a lead as large as 26. The Lakers however, would then stage a furious comeback in the 2nd half to win on a Robert Horry buzzer beater, 100–99. In Game 5, the Kings staged some magical late-game heroics of their own back in Sacramento with a Mike Bibby shot with 8.2 seconds remaining. A Kobe Bryant heave fell short at the buzzer and the Kings took a commanding 3-2 series lead. With their season on the line, the Lakers returned home for Game 6.
In a controversial game, one in which Los Angeles attempted 27 free throws in the 4th quarter to Sacramento's 9, O'Neal had one of the most dominant performances of his career with 41 points and 17 rebounds to force a Game 7 back in ARCO Arena. The outrage was as such that politician Ralph Nader demanded an investigation. The Lakers prevailed on the Kings' court in an overtime thriller 112-106 and won the series 4-3 earn their third straight NBA Finals berth.