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NBA FINALS / GAME 3 / LAKERS 106, NEW JERSEY 103

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June 10, 2002

Lakers Take Away Remaining Drama

In a weekend of intensely anticipated sporting events that proved to be frustrating anticlimaxes, the New Jersey Nets' excruciating 106-103 loss to the Los Angeles Lakers on Sunday was the final coup de disgrace.

The Lakers, now within one game of a third consecutive NBA title, are all that. In fact, Kobe Bryant and Shaquille O'Neal, who had 36 and 35 points, respectively, are even more. They're all this and all that. But for one night on their home court, the Nets were almost as good.

Jason Kidd was everywhere with 30 points and 10 assists. Spider-Man couldn't cover more territory. Kenyon Martin awoke, scoring 26 points. In effect, Game 3 was virtually an elimination game. And the Nets played with a desperate fury worthy of it. After all, no team in the history of the NBA has come back from a 3-0 deficit.

The Lakers, behind 94-87, simply made every play they needed down the stretch in an imperiously efficient 19-9 closing push. O'Neal made enough free throws (11 of 17), plus an acrobatic block of a Kidd layup in the last minute. No shot, even when double-teamed, was beyond Bryant's plastic-man ability to stretch himself inches beyond the leap of his foes.

"The light is starting to flicker a little bit. Their two stars stepped it up big time," Net Coach Byron Scott admitted. "There are 28 other teams that don't have anybody to stop them either."

Then Scott really summed up this now-defunct series. "Shaq is just a freak of nature," said Scott, who has watched O'Neal score 111 points in three games as he heads for his third straight most valuable player award in the NBA Finals. "You'd have to get Mr. O'Neal and Mrs. O'Neal together again to come up with somebody to stop Shaq."

THOMAS BOSWELL

Washington Post

*

Their Best Still Not Good Enough

At last, at the end, there were no excuses to fall in line behind, no sacrificial scapegoats to absorb all the slings and all the arrows of poor effort and lousy execution. That, it turned out, was the most helpless, hopeless, hapless feeling of all.

The Nets played a terrific basketball game Sunday night. They shot the ball well, nearly 52% for the game. They ran the ball well. They got wonderful efforts from their two stars, Jason Kidd and Kenyon Martin, who had 56 points between them. They even managed to score 14 more points in the paint than the Lakers.

They had their shoe heels poised on the Lakers' fingertips

And it still wasn't good enough.

Helpless. Hopeless. Hapless.

"They are a relentless team," Martin would say through a sigh and a set of shrugged shoulders. "And they are also a talented team. It's why they've won two championships in a row."

Forget the formalities and let's call it three, because the Lakers aren't just a great team, they are a greedy one. They won Sunday's game, 106-103, when it would have been perfectly acceptable to save themselves for Wednesday night. They took a 3-0 lead in this series when 2-1 would have been just as daunting.

They win even when they're not supposed to win.

Which is what makes them so frightening.

And makes this series so over.

The luster of this splendid season has already been scratched and scuffed for the Nets; their lone aspiration across the next three days is to keep the Lakers from dulling its memory entirely with the business end of a broom.

Professionals aren't supposed to play for pride, and they aren't supposed to be trolling for moral victories.

But without pride, without a consolation prize or two, what do the Nets have left, exactly?

MIKE VACCARO

Newark Star-Ledger

*

Home Isn't Much of an Advantage

Back when no one cared about the Nets, which seems like yesterday, the organization pulled a hi-tech hoax. The Nets couldn't cause a commotion, so they created one. In a desperate effort to breathe life into a building and a team, they manufactured crowd noise over the loudspeakers. There were whistles, applause and lots of love.

Basically, the Nets faked it more than anyone on "Sex in the City." In yet another example of how far they've come, there was real human emotion at Continental Airlines Arena on Sunday night. Though the cheering and the passion was all natural, it didn't exactly pound off the walls as hard as Shaq is pounding the Nets. Even after a very long and tough week in L.A., the Nets returned to a civil and somewhat suspicious building. You think the players didn't notice? After the Game 3 player introductions, Kenyon Martin had to tug at his ear and wave his hands to give fans the cue to be heard. Then came a plea from the public-address announcer: "Get on your feet. You are the sixth man." And Lucious Harris thought he had that role all to himself.

As the NBA Finals came to a critical crossroads for the Nets, they really had no choice. Home court either had to be an advantage, or serve as the dance floor for the Lakers' three-peat celebration.

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