Kobe and Shaq, Shaq and Kobe; no matter which way you say it, the dynamic duo of Kobe Bryant and Shaquille O’Neal was unstoppable for the Los Angeles Lakers. The two Hall of Famers helped lead LA to three consecutive NBA championships from 2000 through 2002 and took the team to the Finals again in 2004.
Their former Finals foe Mark Jackson, however, thinks Bryant and O’Neal should have only won two titles together; that is if they hadn’t had some “unstoppable” performances against his team.
Kobe Bryant, Shaq, and the Lakers met Mark Jackson and the Pacers in the 2000 NBA Finals
The 1999-2000 season was Shaquille O’Neal and Kobe Bryant’s fourth together on the Lakers. Up to that point, they had reached the Western Conference semifinals twice and the Western Conference Finals once.
During that 1999-2000 campaign, though, they were arguably the best team in the league. The Lakers went 67-15 that season and won their way through the West in the playoffs before reaching the franchise’s first Finals since 1988.
The team they played in the Finals? The Indiana Pacers, who were led by the great Reggie Miller and coached by NBA icon Larry Bird.
The series between the two teams was competitive, as LA won the first two games before Indiana won Game 3 by nine points. Game 4, however, was arguably the most competitive contest of the series. The Lakers won 120-118 in overtime despite the Pacers having an excellent opportunity to win, given that O’Neal fouled out and missed part of OT. Bryant, though, scored 12 points combined in the fourth quarter and overtime to lead the team to victory.
Indiana then came back and won big in Game 5, 120-87, to make it 3-2 in the series, but Los Angeles closed the Pacers out in Game 6, winning 116-111.
Mark Jackson thinks the Pacers should have won the 2000 NBA Finals
Mark Jackson was the Pacers’ starting point guard during the 1999-2000 season. He was toward the end of his career, but he was still the elite passer he had always been, as he averaged 8.0 assists per game. The one-time All-Star recently appeared on Shannon Sharpe’s Club Shay Shay, and he said Indiana should have won the Finals against the Lakers in 2000.
“We shoulda won,” Jackson said on the Sept. 27 episode. “… We were good enough because we had depth at the power forward position; we had a center that was a weapon that could take advantage of Shaquille O’Neal’s flaws, the ability to defend the pick-and-roll. So, every time in the pick-and-roll, we’re gonna get a shot off of Rick Smits, where he’s a jump-shooting big man that can post up and score. So, we were a perfect matchup. Jalen Rose, 6-9, versatility at the small forward position; Chris Mullin. So, we had the depth and the versatility.”
But Jackson admitted that the Lakers just had two players who could take over a game whenever.
“At the end of the day, they had two dudes that was unstoppable … they had two dudes that’s all-time greats,” Jackson said.
So, despite the Pacers essentially having a stacked roster that included Miller, Rose, Dale Davis, Jackson, and others, the Lakers just had two of the greatest players to ever play.
O’Neal had several big-time performances in the series, as he averaged a staggering 38.0 points and 16.7 rebounds. Bryant, on the other hand, posted 15.6 points, 4.6 rebounds, and 4.2 assists per game. Kobe also dropped 28 points in that Game 4 win before recording 26 points and 10 rebounds in Game 6.
Jackson and the Pacers were talented, but they weren’t talented enough. They weren’t the only ones to fall victim to Shaq and Kobe’s dominance, either, as that 2000 title sparked a dynastic run for the two stars
Kobe Bryant and Shaq won two more titles with the Lakers
The Pacers couldn’t capitalize on the opportunity to win a title that year, and they never got another chance to afterward, as they haven’t been back to the Finals since.
The Lakers, though, won two more consecutive championships with Shaquille O’Neal and Kobe Bryant.
Here are their stats during those next two Finals appearances.
2001 NBA Finals versus the Philadelphia 76ers
- Shaquille O’Neal: 33.0 points, 15.8 rebounds, and 4.8 assists per game
- Kobe Bryant: 24.6 points, 7.8 rebounds, and 5.8 assists per game
2002 NBA Finals versus the New Jersey Nets
- Shaquille O’Neal: 36.3 points and 12.3 rebounds per game
- Kobe Bryant: 26.8 points, 5.8 rebounds, and 5.3 assists per game
There were, of course, plenty of teams talented enough to win championships during the Shaq-Kobe Lakers era. The Pacers were one of them. But as Jackson said above, LA simply just had “two dudes” that were “unstoppable.”
Stats courtesy of Basketball Reference
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