The three-peat Shaquille O’Neal/Kobe Bryant Lakers beat some outstanding teams along the way: The Reggie Miller Pacers, the Tim Duncan Spurs, the Allen Iverson Sixers, the Chris Webber Kings, the Jason Kidd Nets.
Who was the toughest of them all?
The 2000 Portland Trail Blazers, Shaq told Howard Beck of Bleacher Report (in a fantastic oral history of “the lob”). That was a deep team with Scottie Pippen, Steve Smith, Rasheed Wallace, Arvydas Sabonis, Jermaine O’Neal, Damon Stoudamire, and Bonzi Wells.
“They were the toughest team,” Shaq says, “and they were the only team that wasn’t scared of us.”
Shaq wasn’t alone, Rick Fox had high praise for those Blazers.
“It’s probably the best team I’ve ever faced playing basketball, period,” says Robert Horry, who won seven championships in his 16-year career, including three with the Lakers.
The Lakers beat that Portland team in a Game 7 that came to define the Shaq/Kobe era. The Trail Blazers came into Staples Center and dominated the first 38 minutes of the contest, leading by 15 in the fourth and posing questions the Lakers could not answer — in particular, the Lakers had no answer for Wallace. But in the fourth quarter the Trail Blazers took their foot off the gas, drifted away from what had worked for them up to that point, and, most importantly, they went ice cold. Wallace, who had 30 points in the game, was 3-of-9 in the fourth, the rest of the Blazers were 2-of-14 from the floor.
In that gap, the Lakers made their last big push, with Shaq and Kobe combining for 18 in the quarter. The Lakers came all the way back to take a small lead in a tight game, when Kobe found Shaq for a lob and it was all over.
From there the Shaq/Kobe Lakers went on to be a dynasty.
Portland, however, almost kept that dynasty from ever getting started.