Entering the 1999-00 season, the Los Angeles Lakers were determined to take the next step toward elite status as NBA champions. While Shaquille O’Neal and Kobe Bryant continued to develop their chemistry, head coach Phil Jackson and general manager Mitch Kupchak put together a supporting cast filled with savvy veterans.
These role players often stepped up during various stages of the season, as Bryant and O’Neal drew the bulk of the attention from opponents. With the triangle offense implemented, shooters spaced out the floor and allowed the motions of their schemes to speak for themselves.
On this day in Lakers history, one particular veteran proved to be the difference in a playoff tuneup. On April 10, 2000, the Lakers hosted the Seattle SuperSonics at the Staples Center. The SuperSonics starting lineup of Gary Payton, Brent Barry, Ruben Patterson, Vin Baker, and Horace Grant was a gritty group, with a 42-34 record entering the contest.
On the other hand, Ron Harper, Bryant, Glen Rice, A.C. Green, and John Salley formed the starting lineup for the 64-13 Lakers.
After a couple of disappointing turnouts in the recent playoffs, Los Angeles demonstrated a composed and determined demeanor throughout the season. However, the team also didn’t have their full roster when pitted against Seattle.
Upon playing in each game up to April 5, O’Neal sat out his first two games of the season on April 8 and 10. In his place, Jackson preached a next-man-up philosophy to his players, and the veterans came in firing against the SuperSonics.
The packed crowd of 18,997 witnessed a back-and-forth affair, with the Lakers emerging with a one-point lead after the first. With O’Neal out for the night, the Lakers were left without their defensive anchor.
However, both Green and Salley stepped up in stopping Baker, a four-time All-Star. Baker finished the game 1-for-8 from the field, fouling out after scoring just three points. Shammond Williams filled the void by providing a punch off the bench.
In 24 minutes played, Williams contributed in a team-high 28 points on 9-for-17, including 5-for-8 from 3-point range.
The Lakers needed their own response on the scoring end, especially with O’Neal out. That player turned out to be Rice, the sharpshooting wing. After an All-Star stint with the Charlotte Hornets, Rice accepted a lesser role to join a championship-caliber team.
Although the first half was a low-scoring affair, the second half developed into the opposite. The Lakers outscored the SuperSonics by 14 points in the third quarter. Both Bryant and Rice carried the load, accounting for 48 of the team’s 95 total shots.
However, Seattle wouldn’t die out easily, responding with a scoring run in the final quarter. Bryant was double-teamed throughout much of the forth, forcing Rice, Brian Shaw, and Rick Fox to hit their open shots.
With the game tied at 92 and just under a minute left, the Lakers allowed Seattle to take a two-point lead on free throws. With 1.2 seconds left, the inbounds pass went to Rice in the corner, as he nailed the game-tying shot at the buzzer over two defenders.
During overtime, the Lakers created some separation when Rice knocked down two clutch free throws. Although Seattle then hit a 3-pointer to cut the lead to a single point, the Lakers inbounded to a wide-open Green, who ran it down the court and slammed it home. That dunk stamped the Lakers’ 106-103 victory, allowing them to escape after almost blowing their lead.
Rice torched the SuperSonics for 28 points, nine rebounds and three assists. While Rice didn’t make any 3-point shots, he was effective off the drive and the recipient of many easy cuts to the basket. His buzzer-beater reminded many of his elite shooting status, renowned as one of the all-time great shooters.
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