In a game that ended with the Lakers being booed and taunted as they left the court victoriously, Los Angeles defeated the Philadelphia 76ers 108-96 in Game 5 of the NBA Finals on Friday night.
With Shaquille O'Neal leading the way, the Lakers finished the playoffs with a record of 15-1, the best ever, and became the first team to go through the playoffs undefeated on the road.
They won 23 of their final 24 games and were so good that their last pass of the game - an alley-oop from Rick Fox to O'Neal - dropped unexpectedly through the basket for a 3-pointer.
It was the last of 12 3-pointers the Lakers made in a clincher that could have turned into a blowout if not for the determination of the 76ers.
The Sixers made one of their patented fourth-quarter comebacks, cutting a 19-point deficit to seven with 1:13 left. But Derek Fisher - as so many Lakers role players had done throughout the series - hit a 3-pointer to end the 76ers' hopes.
Allen Iverson left the game for good with 40.3 seconds left, leaving to a standing ovation and a chant of ``M-V-P'' from the fans who had hoped for the Sixers' first title in almost two decades.
The fans defiantly chanted ``Let's Go Sixers'' as the Lakers left the court to safely receive their championship trophy somewhere other than at center court.
Bryant jumped around exuberantly after the final buzzer, cradling the game ball while extending his other arm high in the air. O'Neal merely sauntered downcourt with a stoic expression and ended up in the arms of Lakers rookie Mark Madsen.
Bryant and Fox found Sixers coach Larry Brown and hugged him.
All four of those Lakers had outstanding games. O'Neal finished with 29 points and 13 rebounds, Bryant scored 26, Fox had 20 and Fisher 18.
Fisher shot 6-for-8 from 3-point range and again played such tight defense on Iverson that it left the Sixers' best player clearly frustrated.
Iverson, who picked up three personal fouls and a technical foul in the first quarter, finished with 37 points on 14-for-32 shooting. Tyrone Hill added 18, and Dikembe Mutombo and Eric Snow had 13 each for Philadelphia.
The series ended somewhat anticlimactically given the way it began. The heavy underdog Sixers surprised the Lakers and the basketball world by winning Game 1 in overtime, but Los Angeles regained the momentum by holding off the Sixers in Games 2 and 3 and then winning Game 4 decisively.
The 76ers played another gritty, determined game. They just didn't have enough offense to keep up with a Lakers team that methodically answered every run they made.
``We could not have won these finals without the entire team,'' said Fisher, one of several members of O'Neal and Bryant's supporting cast who gave Philadelphia the decisive edge.
Coach Phil Jackson won hi eighth title - six of them with the Michael Jordan-led Chicago Bulls - one short of the NBA record for coaches held by Red Auerbach. Jackson has won his last 20 playoff series, also a record.
``This is surreal,'' he said.
A championship hardly seemed possible just a few months ago when Bryant and O'Neal were taking potshots at each another and the team was plagued by finger-pointing, bickering and pettiness.
The team worked out its problems by late in the season and finished with eight straight regular-season victories before winning their first 11 postseason games.
After easily beating Portland, Sacramento and San Antonio in the first three rounds, the Lakers had their sights set on becoming the first team to go undefeated through the playoffs.
Their Game 1 loss ended that possibility, but they won their final four to set the mark for the best postseason winning percentage.
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