Coming off Los Angeles’s first championship victory since the Showtime Lakers days, Kobe Bryant and Shaquille O’Neal were looking to defend their crown in 2001 NBA Finals against the league’s reigning MVP at the time, Allen Iverson.
“The Answer” as he was known, was universally recognized as the best point guard in the game and caused a headache for many of his opponents. His deadly crossover and jump shot was something to behold. The problem was, those around him did not provide much help which is why his run to the finals, to begin with, was remarkable.
The Lakers on the other hand were the prohibited favorite with the dominant Shaquille O’neal and superstar talent Kobe Bryant by his side. To this day, it is known as one of the best duos of all time.
Entering the ultimate stage the Sixers and the Lakers had many different paths. After Philadelphia beat the Indiana Pacers 3-1 in their opening-round matchup, they had two hard-fought seven games series against the Toronto Raptors and Milwaukee Bucks respectively.
On the Western Conference side of the bracket, the LA Lakers completely annihilated anyone that would stand their way. In fact, they swept every single team. These teams included The Portland Trailblazers, their archrival Sacramento Kings, and the steady San Antonio Spurs led by star big men David Robinson, Tim Duncan, and coach Gregg Popovich.
No team in the history of the NBA up until then has ever had a better winning percentage in the Playoffs run. In fact, the only team in NBA history that has had a better record was the 2017 Golden State Warriors.
The remarkable part about that run was that the Lakers route to the finals was considered the toughest of all the teams that postseason. Not only did they sweep all three West opponents, but they beat each team convincingly with a historic margin.
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The Stage is Set
Game 1 of the 2001 NBA Finals between the Sixers in the Lakers at Staples Center was proven to be a classic. The celebrities were out, and the stars did not disappoint. Shaquille O’Neal put up an incredible stat line of 44 points and 20 rebounds, while Allen Iverson put up 48 points in an overtime thrilling victory.
Not only did Philadelphia deliver the Lakers’ first loss of the playoffs that season, but “The Answer” also had one of the most iconic and memorable moments in NBA history. In the extra period, Iverson crossed over when he broke Lakers guard Tyron Lue’s ankles, swished the shot, and decided to step over him in front of LA’s bench.
The rest of the series however did not prove to be as thrilling as the opener. While Game 3 was also close, Los Angeles took full control and ended up winning the next 4 games in a row to become back-to-back champions. Shaquille O’Neal won finals MVP once again while averaging a dominant stat line of 33 points and nearly 16 rebounds.
Despite the loss, Iverson’s finals debut will always be remembered for his iconic shot over Lue even 20 years later.