This article was originally published on June 11, 2001.
The festive atmosphere created by the 76ers' championship run made its way into the First Union Center last night, and the Los Angeles Lakers nearly crumbled because of it.
Los Angeles was anything but overpowering in the last 24 minutes of Game 3, and the Lakers went the final 2 minutes, 21 seconds without center Shaquille O'Neal, who had fouled out.
The Western Conference champions' halo appeared as if it might slip off in this key game in the best-of-seven NBA Finals. But when it was time to step up, time for someone without star status to show a pulse, Robert Horry did just that for the Lakers.
Because of this, the Finals eventually will return to Los Angeles - unless the Lakers take Game 4, then finish off the Sixers in Game 5.
For now, the Sixers will have to lick their wounds and ponder the fact that they failed to take advantage of O'Neal's absence. Horry fired in a three-point shot with 47.1 seconds remaining last night as Los Angeles claimed a heart-stopping 96-91 victory over the Sixers and a two-games-to-one series lead.
Games 4 and 5 are scheduled for Wednesday and Friday at the First Union Center. But with the loss, the Sixers can no longer take a title on their own floor and are forced, if they are able to do so, to return to the Staples Center for a Game 6 on Sunday, having allowed the Lakers to regain home-court advantage.
"I guess you'd have to say Robert Horry stepped into a massive role today," Lakers coach Phil Jackson said. "But people who have watched this team know it comes as no surprise. Their defense stepped it up, but I thought we handled the pressure. "
"Horry stepped up big time," Sixers coach Larry Brown agreed. "It was a phenomenal game. We just couldn't get the lead. We had a chance to win, but we didn't get it done, and that's what it's about.
"If you're going to win a championship, and you've got opportunities to win, you've got to step up and make the most of it. "
Obviously, the Sixers did no such thing. The numbers support that.
Center Dikembe Mutombo finished with 23 points, 12 rebounds, and 2 blocked shots. The good news ends there.
Allen Iverson ended up with a game-high 35 points but shot 12 for 30 from the field, 1 for 6 from beyond the three-point arc. Aaron McKie, with his ailing right ankle, scored just five points on 2-for-8 shooting. Forward Tyrone Hill didn't show up, hitting just 1 of 7 shots. Neither did Jumaine Jones, who attempted just two shots all evening and hit a three-pointer. And despite Eric Snow's 14 points, he shot 4 for 11 from the field, committing three turnovers along the way.
Still, the Sixers had plenty of opportunities to escape with a victory, but they did little when it mattered most.
Trailing by 55-45 at the half and by seven at the end of three quarters, they hounded L.A. on defense. The Lakers seemed ill-equipped to handle the pressure.
Kobe Bryant, who scored 20 first-half points, finished with 30 but shot 3 for 14 in the second half. One turnover or ill-advised shot after another came at the most inopportune times. The Lakers hit just 3 of their last 15 shots in the last 9:06 of the third quarter, O'Neal was playing tentatively after picking up his fifth foul with 6:28 remaining in the game, and the Sixers had clawed to within 84-82 with 4:31 to play.
When O'Neal fouled out with 2:21 left, the Lakers wore looks of frustration. Suddenly, they were losing this dogfight, and O'Neal wasn't shy in revealing why he felt that way.
"It's a shame that the defensive player of the year [Mutombo] had to flop like that," said O'Neal, who finished with 30 points, 12 rebounds and 4 blocked shots in 41 minutes.
"It's a shame that the referees were buying into that. I wish he'd stand up and play me like a man instead of flopping and crying every time I back him down. It's just a shame. You can quote me on that. And underline it three times. "
There was no need for Mutombo to worry about such matters. His flopping worked to perfection.
O'Neal was out of the game. Bryant, Horry and a bunch of suspect ball handlers were inserted, and the Sixers were like carnivores at a barbecue because of it.
Brown smelled blood, sensing he could take advantage of L.A.'s deficiency, so he put virtually five guards into the game.
Kevin Ollie was one. Raja Bell was another. They joined McKie, Iverson and Eric Snow. With O'Neal out, it appeared to be a chance worth taking.
In the end, it didn't matter.
When the Sixers pulled within 89-88 with 1:02 remaining, courtesy of a three-point play by Ollie, pandemonium overtook the arena. One blow and the Sixers would have the lead. But it wasn't to be.
With the ball in Bryant's hands and Bell defending him, the Sixers elected to double on Bryant. They used Snow, who admitted he rotated to the double team a bit earlier and farther than he would have liked.
"I maybe should not have rotated so early," Snow said. "Maybe then, Horry would not have been so open. But if I had waited, then Kobe would've had Raja one-on-one. So pick your poison. "
The Sixers picked the deadliest one.
With Snow helping out Bell, the ball went from Bryant to Brian Shaw to Horry, who was wide open in the left corner. Horry caught the pass, surveyed the arena - taking enough time that he could have eaten a hot dog - and calmly launched a three-point shot from the left corner with 47.1 seconds left.
Iverson then hit three foul shots, but Horry followed by connecting on two with 29.3 seconds to go and two more with 9.5 seconds left. He scored the Lakers' final seven points, but the game essentially was over the second he drilled the three.
"It was simple," said Horry, who finished with 15 points on 4-of-5 shooting from the field, hitting all three of his three-pointers and all four of his free throws. "You keep the game simple. You kick it to the open guy, the guy gets an open shot, you shoot. Simple. "
Los Angeles is 6-0 on the road throughout the playoffs. If the Lakers finish 8-0, they will be world champions by Friday night.
That should be simple enough for everyone to understand.