We have 28 days until the NBA regular season arrives. As we’re intrigued by the future of the Golden State Warriors’ “super-team” that has ditched “Strength In Numbers” for “Strength In Stars”, and the Cleveland Cavaliers can defend their first ever NBA title, let’s look back at two memorable NBA teams from the last decade. Presenting our newest NBA Column: Remember That Team?
Almost three weeks ago, Shaquille O’Neal, Allen Iverson, and Yao Ming headlined the 2016 Hall of Fame. These three had varying levels of good careers. If it wasn’t for Yao Ming’s foot problems he could have been one of the top centers ever. His fellow inductee Shaq thinks so too
But let’s focus a bit more on Shaq and AI. As they were the best players on this “Remember That Team” Segment.
In retrospect, the 2000-2001 NBA season was one of the more exciting years from the 2000s. The Los Angeles Lakers had convincingly won the 2000 NBA Finals, but there were questions if they could repeat and if they could keep the team together as Kobe’s rise to super-stardom led to him being more demanding of the ball. Tim Duncan missed the 2000 season with a meniscus injury, so the San Antonio Spurs were no threat, the Portland Trail Blazers collapsed in the fourth quarter of game 7, and the Indiana Pacers did push LA to six games.
Meanwhile, the 2000 Philadelphia 76ers were just coming off of a 49 win season and second round lost to the Pacers. During the off-season, they were trying to unload Iverson due to disputes between him and Head Coach Larry Brown. A three team trade between the Lakers, Pistons, and Sixers was set up that would land “The Answer” in Detroit, but due to Sixers’ backup center Matt Geiger refusing to let go of his trade exception pay raise, the deal collapsed.
The Lakers’ regular season wasn’t an easy one. Shaq and Kobe missed a combined 22 games (eight and 14 respectively), but the main concern was if the two superstars could co-exist in LA. Kobe didn’t want to take a backseat to Shaq anymore. Tensions began to increase after a three point loss to the Golden State Warriors on December 6, 2000.
Kobe had a great all-around game with 51 points, 7 rebounds, and 8 assists to go with two steals and a blocked shot. He shot 51.4% from the field and was unstoppable in the open court, however, the Warriors’ Antawn Jamison matched the young mamba in their duel with his own 51 points, 13 rebounds (lead the game in boards, Shaq had 10), 5 assists, 2 steals and a swat as well.
The game went down to the wire in overtime, and ultimately they lost because Kobe attempted to play hero ball and failed miserably. After a botched pass by a Warriors’ player the Lakers recovered the ball. Down two with 12 seconds left, Shaq screens for Kobe. He then cuts towards the basket, open for a dunk that would tie the game. Kobe, instead, dribbles away time, heads into the paint, and passes the ball to Horace Grant. He misses the contested jump shot, Kobe misses the follow up, Warriors grab the ball, get fouled and make one of two free throws.
Ball game. Right?
No, not yet. With 2.5 seconds left, they inbound it to Shaq who passes to Kobe at near half court (the Warriors played terrific inbound defense, denying Bryant the ball). Kobe shoots, and bricks the, would be, game-tying shot.
Ball Game now? Yeah.
The Shaq-Kobe feud would worsen, but eventually, they’d reconcile their differences and finish the regular season with an eight-game winning streak.
Going back to Philly for a second, Allen Iverson was leading the team to victory after victory. Despite his poor shooting, 42.0 FG% and 32 3FG%, he’d come through in the clutch to close out ball games for the Sixers. During the 2001 All-Star game, he’d put on a show.
Tough finishes at the rim, an alley-oop finish, and-1 plays, a couple crossovers, nice passes, defense leading to steals, and even a made three pointer. Allen did everything in his power to win the ballgame. The East would win 111-100, and AI would take away the All-Star game MVP backed up by 25 points, five assists, and four steals. He had a typical shooting night, 9 for 21 shooting, but scored 15 of his 25 in the fourth quarter.
The Sixers would go ahead to claim the Eastern Conference as their own, winning 56 games and Allen Iverson would win the 2001 scoring title (31.1 PPG) and Most Valuable Player awards. Allen is the NBA MVP with the second most games missed a season (11). Who was first? Bill Walton. Despite missing 24 games (including the last 22) Walton averaged 18.9 points, 13.2 rebounds, five assists, and 2.7 blocks in 56 games. Throughout the first 60 games, his defending champion Blazers were 50-10, on track for 68 wins. They would finish with 58 wins and the best record in the league. Considering that they went 8-14 after Walton’s injury, and how dominant they were before it, he legitimately took the award.
In the 2001 playoffs, AI’s Sixers would need 18 out of a possible 19 games to reach the NBA finals, going 3-1, 4-3, and 4-3 in rounds the first three rounds.
The Lakers, on the other hand, dominated the postseason. They swept a 50-win Blazers team in round one, a 55-win Kings team in round two, and a 57-win Spurs team in the Conference Finals. Having won their last 19 games, they entered the finals with an 11-0 playoff record. No team had ever made it to the finals without a loss, until now. Shaq and Kobe temporarily put aside their differences and dominated as a 1-2 punch.
2001 Playoffs (before finals):
Shaq: 29.3 ppg, 15.3 rpg, 1.9 bpg (54.7 FG%)
Kobe: 31.6 ppg, 7.0 rpg, 6.2 apg, 1.6 spg (49.2 FG%, 32.0 3FG%)
Iverson: 32.1 ppg, 4.5 rpg, 6.8 apg (38.3 FG%, 35.6 3FG)
Now the NBA Finals had arrived. The Sixers were the underdogs heading into game one. Then this happened…
The Sixers would steal the first game after a 48-point performance by AI. Everyone now saw that this could potentially be a series, but we all know what happened. The Lakers stomped over Philly with four straight wins to repeat as NBA champions. Shaq would repeat as MVP of the finals with 33 ppg, 15.8 rpg, 4.8 apg, and 3.4 bpg. A truly dominant performance. Kobe embraced the sidekick role with great numbers: 24. 6 ppg, 7.8 rpg, and 5.8 apg.
Allen Iverson may not have brought home the trophy, but LA couldn’t stop him from scoring. 35.6 ppg lead everyone, and he averaged 5.6 rpg and 3.8 apg.
2001 Playoffs (post finals):
Shaq: 30.5 ppg, 15.4 rpg, 2.4 bpg (55.5 FG%)
Kobe: 29.4 ppg, 7.3 rpg, 6.1 apg, 1.6 spg (46.9 FG%, 32.4 3FG%)
Iverson: 32.9 ppg, 4.7 rpg, 6.1 apg (38.9 FG%, 33.8 3FG)
The 2001 season was a memorable one. During it, two teams overcame obstacles to make it to June. Of course, only one team would win, but that doesn’t mean we’d forget the other. Without a doubt we will remember that team.