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Bill Plaschke

They Refuse to Lose the Look of a Champion

June 01, 2002|Bill Plaschke

The team of many colors unveiled yet another new wardrobe Friday night, buttoning it to their necks and lacing it around their ankles and tightening it up like armor.

It was strange. It was unfashionable. It was terrific.

The Lakers wore desperate.

Today, a drained and breathless Los Angeles celebrates a chance to see them wear it again.

Wearing it to a 106-102 victory in Game 6 of the Western Conference finals, the look knocked the Sacramento Kings up the interstate and extended this wondrous series to a seventh and final game.

That would be Sunday in Sacramento. The Lakers would be wise to sleep in their clothes.

These torn, sweat-soaked, throwback clothes.

"We're the champions," said Kobe Bryant after another edge-of-seat evening at Staples Center. "They're going to have to take it from us."

For several hours in front of 18,997 screaming fans who have turned Staples into a giant Arco without the cows, the Lakers were champions indeed.

And in the final moments, the Kings indeed could not take it from them.

With the score tied at 92, Robert Horry jumped a pick that he did not jump in Game 5, leading to Chris Webber's airball hook.

Moments later, Hedo Turkoglu forced a shot against a Rick Fox pursuit that we have not seen in days.

Then Mike Bibby attempted a drive and was stopped by Bryant. Yes, the same Bryant who was not guarding him in Game 5.

By then, it was simply a matter of the Lakers taking advantage of the sort of liberal officiating that made one wonder.

Were the referees attempting to make up for a poorly called Game 5 with a worse job in Game 6?

The Kings will talk forever about how the Lakers shot 27 free throws in the fourth quarter, while the Kings shot nine.

Viewers everywhere will wonder how basketball's two most exciting teams could be ground to a halt by officials who were decidedly not going to let the players play.

But the Lakers will care about none of it.

Going deep in this sixth, they have come up with a seventh, and even though it is in the most difficult home court in the league, who would bet against them?

The Lakers have won two deciding games in this three-year playoff run.

In one of them, they beat the Kings by 27 points.

That was two years. But on Friday, the Lakers looked like two years ago.

With their reputations to the wall and their hearts back in a corner, they came out like we have not seen them in several months.

Shaq was Shaq.

O'Neal caught the ball deep, moved to the basket hard, even beat his teammates down the court on defense while scoring 41 points.

Afterward, he even told an old-time cute Shaq story afterward about being awakened at 2:30 a.m. Friday by Kobe Bryant, who whispered sweet nothings into the phone about the need for Shaq's domination.

"I just told him, 'Let's go, we've been through so much together these past few years, and this is nothing,'" Bryant said.

Kobe was also Kobe.

He looked inside first. He played defense second. He took fewer shots than Webber. After oddly struggling at the line earlier in the playoffs, he made every stinking one of his 11 free throws.

"It's a free shot, there's nobody guarding you," Bryant said with some astonishment. "You should make them."

There was more.

Remember the Shaw-Shaq redemption in 2000?

It came back, with Brian Shaw hustling around for three rebounds and two assists and that old-time calm leadership.

Remember Derek Fisher?

Missing for this entire series until now, he finally showed up in the second half, hounding Bibby and making a three-point basket and, who knows, maybe he'll show up again on Sunday.

And remember how opponents used to be furious with the way the Lakers were allowed to dominate?

This was about the Lakers' good old days indeed, with the Kings furious about several things that made the Lakers madder than heck only a few days ago.

They were upset about Vlade Divac fouling out on a ticky-tack loose ball call with 2:56 remaining with the score tied.

It was just like O'Neal fouled out in Game 5.

They were perplexed about Bibby not drawing a charging foul against Bryant on an in-bounds play in the final moments even though Bryant bloodied his nose.

Just like the Lakers were mad about Bobby Jackson not being called for a foul after pulling out Bryant's shirt in Game 5.

"I feel sorry for our team," King Coach Rick Adelman said. "They did everything they could to win the game. They did. It's just a real shame."

Somebody mentioned that the Lakers shot 27 free throws in the fourth quarter.

"They sure did," Adelman said quickly. "Obviously they got the game called the way they wanted to get it called."

But then he paused, and added, "We're not going away Sunday."

Who is? Who would? Who can?


Bill Plaschke can be reached at

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