Lakers Claim NBA Title in Game 6

LOS ANGELES -- Shaquille O'Neal scored 41 points as the Los Angeles Lakers pulled out a thrilling 116-111 come-from-behind victory over the Indiana Pacers on Monday night to win their first NBA championship in 12 years.

"I've been in the league for eight years, and this is what I wanted to come to the NBA for," said O'Neal, who was unanimously voted the Most Valuable Player of the Finals.

O'Neal, who was also the MVP of the regular season and shared the All-Star Game MVP award with San Antonio's Tim Duncan, told the Staples Center crowd: "I want to thank you all for believing in us and we're going to get one next year, too."

Kobe Bryant, who finished with 26 points, scored his team's last four points on free throws as Los Angeles took the best-of-seven series in six games to claim the franchise's 12th title.

"It was a hard fought game. We finally got a championship and it feels great," said the 21-year-old Bryant. "It's everything [I dreamed of] and more. I love it, can't wait to do it again."

Glen Rice added 16 points for the Lakers. Jalen Rose led Indiana with 29 points, Reggie Miller scored 25, Dale Davis had 20 points and a game-high 14 rebounds and Austin Croshere tallied 16 points for the Pacers.

The defeat marked an end to Hall of Fame player Larry Bird's three-year coaching career. He had said he would retire after this season no matter what. "For me it's been a great experience," said the Pacers coach. "And unfortunately, it's over, but it's time to move on."

Lakers coach Phil Jackson, who won one title as a player with the New York Knicks and six as a coach with Michael Jordan's Chicago Bulls, said: "This is for LA, the Staples Center f what a way to start a millennium!"

Jackson's seven coaching NBA championships puts him within two of the record held by Red Auerbach, who won nine titles as coach of the Boston Celtics. Jackson is only the second coach to win NBAtitles with two different teams, joining Alex Hannum (St. Louis Hawks 1958, Philadelphia 76ers 1967), and he heads the list for playoff winning percentage at .720 (126-49).

In a side room off the locker room, with former Laker great Magic Johnson taking pictures, O'Neal and Bryant collapsed for a moment in exhaustion. Bryant hugged his father, former NBA player Joe "Jelly Bean" Bryant, and wished him "Happy Father's Day," albeit a day late.

The Lakers came within one point six times in the second half before finally taking a 91-90 lead with 9:02 left in the fourth quarter on an O'Neal layup.

The Pacers tied the game at 103 on a Rose 3-pointer with 5:16 to go, and themselves pulled within a point with a minute and a half to go but never took back the lead.

A controversial loose ball foul called on Croshere after Dale Davis cleanly blocked a Rice shot in the lane gave Rice two free throws, which he converted for a three-point lead. The foul was difficult to see on replays, but the Pacers did not press the issue after the game.

Neither team scored for another 1:03 f Miller missed a very long 3-point attempt with about a half minute to go f before Bryant made two free throws with 13 seconds remaining to put the Lakers up 114-109.

After a Davis dunk, Bryant made two more free throws with 2.5 seconds to go for the final score.

After a tight first quarter in which only one score did not result in a tie or lead change, Indiana led 26-24. That came courtesy of a long Mark Jackson catch, twirl and swish after the ball was inbounded with just six-tenths of a second left.

In the second quarter, the Pacers used a 14-5 run to pull out to a 47-35 lead, the biggest of the game.

But two six-point mini-runs helped Los Angeles cut Indiana's lead to three by halftime.

The Pacers, who were in the NBA Finals for the first time, were 0-5 in the Staples Center this season, including a regular-season loss to the lowly Clippers.

The Lakers had not won the NBA title since Magic Johnson and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar led them to back-to-back championships in 1987 and 1988, their fourth and fifth of the decade.

The Minneapolis/Los Angeles Lakers now have won 12 titles in all, second only to Boston's 16.

Scores of people set fire to at least one police car, smashed other vehicles with baseball bats and flung bottles and rocks at firemen after the Lakers' victory.

Witnesses said they saw police, on foot and on horseback, use rubber bullets and billy clubs to break up crowds as rioters pelted them with bottles and set trash cans ablaze.

A police spokesman said he could not immediately confirm that police had used rubber bullets to disperse the crowd.

Firemen trying to extinguish a burning police car were struck with flying debris, witnesses said.

Fans reportedly surrounded and rocked O'Neal's sport-utility vehicle as he was leaving the area.

Police kept fans, reporters and players inside the new Staples Center arena in downtown Los Angeles long after the game ended as they waited for disturbances and bonfires outside the facility to subside.

Lakers forward A.C. Green, one of those remaining at the Staples Center, said, "This is crazy. It's no way to celebrate."