Look Out 76ers, Shaq and Kobe Are Back

CHICAGO TRIBUNE

We interrupt this Laker collapse for a bulletin: Shaq and Kobe are back!

Still, they haven't scared anyone yet but their fans and media pundits.

That's because even with O'Neal and Bryant combining for 59 points, the Philadelphia 76ers battled the Lakers to the final buzzer and the thumping hearts of the normally cool Los Angeles fans in Game 2 of the NBA Finals on Friday night.

In a Staples Center first, cell-phone usage was said to be down in the fourth quarter. This is starting to have the ring of a real series.

Bryant had 31 points and O'Neal had 28 points, 20 rebounds, nine assists and eight blocks. For the 76ers, Allen Iverson had 23 points. As the game ended Bryant and Iverson were challenging one another verbally.

O'Neal almost had the first quadruple-double in playoff history. Only Nate Thurmond of the Bulls, David Robinson and Alvin Robertson of the Spurs and Hakeem Olajuwon of the Rockets have done it in the regular season.

"Growing up watching the Lakers, they always had great players,' O'Neal said. 'I hope that my career will be mentioned in the same breath as Jerry West, Wilt Chamberlain, Magic Johnson. I haven't done anything yet."

Friday's effort should help as O'Neal's all-around play was symbolic of the Laker effort. O'Neal equaled a Finals record for blocked shots and thwarted the 76ers' double-teaming tactics with deft passing. It was ball movement and defense that enabled the Lakers to prevail.

"Now it's a series," O'Neal had said after Game 1. And if the Lakers weren't convinced after falling behind in the playoffs for the first time in two years, they had to be in the first half as the 76ers continued to insist they were a team much like the Lakers--one that scares its opponents one at a time.

"We feel we're very competitive and can play with any team in the league, regardless of the media saying we don't have a chance," Aaron McKie said. "We know we do."

The 76ers were feeling so good they planned to distribute sunglasses to all fans for Game 3 in Philadelphia. Not only can we play with you on the court, we can be just as cool off the court, they were saying.

No one was doubting that in Game 2. The 76ers didn't flinch in the first quarter even as as Kobe Bryant came out shooting and scored 12 points.

"It's a challenge,' Bryant said. "It's a pleasure to play against a team that's so competitive."

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