Retro Running Diary: Lakers vs. Pacers, 2000 Finals, Game 4

One of my favorite ways to spend Kobe’s birthday, 8/23, is to watch an old Kobe game, and then write about it for Kobe Day, 8/24.

This time, I opted for Game 4 of the 2000 NBA Finals. For context, the Lakers led 2-1 going in, and were welcoming back a hobbled Bryant coming off a bad ankle sprain – thanks to Jalen Rose – that limited him to nine minutes in Game 2, and kept him out of Game 3.

Kobe was still just 21 years old, coming off an All-Star season in which he averaged 22.5 points, 6.3 boards and 4.9 assists with 1.6 steals and 0.9 blocks, earning spots on the All-Defensive First Team and All-NBA Second Team.

Let’s get into the action:

8:22: Shaq was an absolute monster throughout the entire 2000 playoff run, as he showcased with an athletic offensive rebound after he leapt over everybody, before he thundered home a dunk. That, however, would be O’Neal’s only field goal until the 8:05 mark of the second quarter, with five misses against a crashing Pacers defense. At this early stage, Kobe was still testing out his ankle, and struggling some to get loose. Indy’s game plan, as told to us by analyst Doug Collins (via assistant coach Rick Carlisle) was to get Kobe involved in an early defensive action to see how he was moving.

6:00 a.m.: Kobe tried a spin move, but couldn’t seem to plant well on his ankle, and was whistled for a trip. Indy led 18-13 at that point, thanks in part to Rik Smits starting 4 for 4 from the field. The “Dunking Dutchman” did pick up two early PF’s and had to sit.

0:00: The Pacers took a 33-23 lead out of the 1stpara, and Kobe had yet to get going. He started 1 for 4 for two points, plus two assists and two turnovers. Ahmad Rashad did a sideline hit in which he revealed that Kobe had basically not slept for the previous two nights; he’d been getting around-the-clock treatment as the training staff tried to get his ankle mobilized.

11:30 a.m.: Reggie Miller allowed himself to be screened very easily by Rick Fox after Kobe made a simple cut through the middle and curled up from the baseline, leaving Bryant a wide-open 18-foot jumper, which he swished. Same textbook, pretty form on his J that carried him through thousands of splashes throughout his 20 years.

Earlier, Jim Gray, the other sideline reporter, cited bulletin board material that Indy used from starting point guard Ron Harper: “It’s a nice roof, lots of interesting banners, but no championship banners. And they’re not going to get one here either, unless they steal one from some other team.” Gray then detailed Mark Jackson’s response: “It’s garbage, it’s just absolute garbage. We don’t need that for motivation, we’re going to beat them without the quotes.”

6:58: With another bucket from Kobe, the Lakers had made five straight, helping them trim the double-digit deficit down to three points at 41-38.

4:56: Shaq’s 3rd PF came trying to defend Smits. The call was soft. Moments later, Kobe drove hard to the rim, forced help from two Pacer defenders, and executed a perfect wraparound pass for a Shaq dunk. But Bryant picked up his own third PF on the next possession, and Phil Jackson gave him his first of only two brief rests of the game.

0:00: Derek Fisher made two key plays in the final minute, first scoring through traffic in the paint, then stealing the ball with a few seconds remaining to keep the deficit at three, 54-51, heading into halftime.

11:00 a.m.: Kobe picked up his fourth foul almost right away in the third, the refs giving Miller a generous call. Indy went right at him on the ensuing possession, calling for a Jackson post up, and Kobe stood his ground before swatting Mark Jackson at the rim. He then scored on the other end, as Phil Jackson opted to keep him in the game.

9:25 a.m. Kobe scored twice more, first on a pull-up J, then by blowing right by Jackson, and hitting a running semi-hook shot over Smits, to pull LA within one point.

3:35: For the second time in the quarter, Kobe got all the way to the bucket, and rimmed out a lefty finish. He was noticeably annoyed at himself, but he did attract the help defense, allowing Shaq to slide in for an easy put-back, plus the foul, that gave LAL a 71-70 edge. Then after Robert Horry drew a charge, Kobe followed with a 1-handed dunk after he again blew past Miller.

0:00: Shaq picked up his fourth PF late in the quarter, but not before reaching 20 points, 17 boards and two blocks to that point already, with much of his scoring coming after he grabbed offensive rebounds (he had seven in the game). With Shaq resting, Bryant (who had 10 points in the quarter) put another pretty move on Miller, and finished with a right-handed floater after spinning into the middle of the lane to his left.

9:05 a.m. Phil bought Kobe two minutes of rest, but sent him back in as Indy started to build a bit of momentum, taking an 83-82 lead with a Rose bucket inside. The Lakers were clearly the more talented and better team, and while Indy was putting up a good fight in their own building, the Pacers never had an answer for either Shaq or Kobe, while LA was making it difficult on Miller and Co. even as they hung in there…

7:44: In fact, Indy went on a 12-2 run, capped by back-to-back 3’s from Miller and Sam Perkins, in what was their brightest moment of the game, enough to give them an 89-84 edge. LA would respond behind, no surprise, Shaq and Kobe, who combined to lead an 8-2 run to reclaim the lead.

3:30: Shaq was the dominant force for the Lakers here, scoring repeatedly inside, but Miller finally got going for Indy, drilling a pair of 3’s sandwiched around a reverse layup, enough to keep the Pacers in it.

1:39: After starting the game 8 for 10 at the free throw line, Shaq went 2 for 7 for the rest of the game. After several possessions running things through the big fella, including two straight times when Indy wrapped him up, LA went through Kobe on the next trip, and he paid it off with a pull-up jumper to reach 20 points, and put his team up 102-101.

Then after a stop, Kobe opted to feed Shaq inside after he’d sealed Dale Davis in the paint, and Shaq split a pair to put LAL up two. Meanwhile, a nice stat from NBC: the Lakers were +41 when Robert Horry (who like Shaq, split a pair of foul shots) was in the game up to that point.

0:35.0: Sam Perkins, who’d played for the Lakers in the early 1990’s, drained a huge triple to tie the game. Horry then turned it over, drawing Phil’s ire, but Travis Best – who’d made some big shots on the evening – missed a step-back jumper after getting Shaq switched onto him. He left 2.3 seconds on the game clock, but Shaq missed a tough hook from the free throw line to bring overtime.

4:04: Horry quickly atoned for his late TO with a baseline jumper, then a put-back dunk off Shaq’s miss to put LAL up four. Indy responded with a Smits hoop, but Kobe got his first points of the session with a pretty step-through move, victimizing Jackson yet again.

2:30: The door for Kobe’s heroics popped open when Shaq picked up his 6th PF, after a loose ball foul on Smits. But first, 36-year-old John Salley checked in to replace Shaq, and Indy went right to Smits for an easy bucket over Salley. In the modern game, Phil may have just moved Horry to the five – Salley couldn’t stop Smits anyway – and put more offense on the floor with Fisher or Fox, but … well … we know the Lakers are about to win the game, so, I guess Phil had it covered!

2:00 a.m.: Kobe brought the ball up, and didn’t pass it with Miller on him, instead crossing Reggie over, rising and drilling a long two. Then he made the “I’ve got this under control” motion with his hands, his precocious nature coming out transparently.

1:20: You probably remember the “How good is this kid?” comment from Bob Costas from Kobe’s career highlight reel, which often features this play: Bryant, having picked on Miller on the previous trip, this time had Mark Jackson on him (Collins says that Jackson “is not a good defender”), and he simply rose up over Jackson to drill another long two, putting the Lakers up 116-113.

36.3: Bryant came down into the paint to help Austin Croshere, swatting his shot out of bounds to maintain the 3-point cushion.

0:05.0: With LAL’s lead down to one after two Smits free throws, Miller did a nice job of denying Kobe the ball. Shaw ended up keeping the ball himself en route to a tough runner across the paint that he missed. But as four Pacers players turned to watch the ball, who else but Kobe leaped into the air, and tipped the ball over his head off the glass.

When this game happened, I was finishing my freshman year of college, but Kevin Ding was writing for the Orange County Register, and was in attendance. I asked him for his recollection:

“That was the coming-out party for Kobe’s poise,” Ding recalled. “No one at the time fully understood how locked in he could be compared to everyone else. His late put-back layup happened with Reggie Miller so lost and overwhelmed that he was boxing out his own teammate while Kobe calmly read the play, and made the play.”

0:00: Miller did get a potential game-winning three off (after cutting the lead to one when Fox fouled Rose prior to the inbounds pass), but it was just short, and LA took a commanding 3-1 series lead. Kobe spoke with Rashad afterwards:

“In our mind, this was the championship,” he said, finishing with 28 points and five assists. “We knew they were going to come out with a lot of energy, we just wanted to keep it close and make a nice little run … when Shaq fouled out, my mindset was, ‘This game just became an awful lot more interesting than it was.’ It was just fun for me. I laughed about it, just went out and played relaxed, as if I were in the back yard.”

There’s a good summary of the Mamba Mentality, being able to “relax” in a critical moment of Game 4 of the Finals, before this group of Lakers had won their first championship, especially on a sore ankle.

“I fouled out, Kobe Bryant took over, he’s a fabulous player,” said Shaq. “I’m glad he’s back … now, uno mas to go.”

LA would go on to win Game 5 116-111 to secure their first of three straight titles.

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