The Los Angeles Lakers became a dynasty during the early 2000s by winning three straight championships, but they did face some major threats along the way. While the Lakers ultimately prevailed in the end in 2000, 2001, and 2002, there were multiple occasions during this run where it looked like they may fall short.
Let's take a look at the three biggest threats the Lakers faced on their way to their three-peat.
Being a team from the Eastern Conference, the Indiana Pacers were not a side the Lakers faced a number of times in a single season, unlike their other Western Conference foes. However, there's no denying that the Pacers posed as a threat to the Lakers at the onset of their dynasty.
The Lakers faced off against Indiana during their first trip to the NBA Finals in 2000. L.A. went through the Sacramento Kings, Phoenix Suns, and Portland Trail Blazers in order to reach the Finals, and after three tough tests in the West, the Lakers had to do battle against Reggie Miller and his Pacers.
The Lakers took the first two game of the series at home, but this came at the expense of Bryant, who was injured early in Game 2 and would not be able to return. Later on, Pacers guard Jalen Rose admitted that he intentionally stuck out his foot to block off Kobe's landing during a jumper. This resulted in a sprained ankle that effectively ruled Bryant out for two games.
Indiana took Game 3 on its home floor with Kobe sidelined. The Lakers bounced back in Game 4, however, with none other than Bryant himself stepping up in the clutch moments to lift his side to an overtime victory and just one win away from the title.
Indiana blew out the Lakers in Game 5, 120-87, but L.A. finally ended the series in Game 6 behind a 41-point, 12-rebound double-double from eventual Finals MVP Shaquille O'Neal. This was the most hard-fought Finals series throughout the three-peat.
2. Sacramento Kings
The Sacramento Kings were arguably the fiercest rival of the Lakers during their historic title runs — and for good reason. The Lakers battled the Kings in the playoffs during all three of their championship runs, and not to mention their countless matchups during the regular season, which more often than not produced some fireworks.
The Kings pushed the Lakers to a deciding Game 5 in the first round of the 2000 playoffs, which was succeeded by a not-so-competitive second-round series the following year (the Kings were one of three teams the Lakers swept during their historic 2001 title run).
However, the most contentious series of them all was their Western Conference Finals matchup in 2002, which is widely considered to be one of the most controversial series in NBA playoff history.
The 2002 Western Conference Finals became infamous for the rigging allegations made by disgraced NBA referee Tim Donaghy. Game 6 was perhaps the most poorly officiated contest in the series, with the Kings just one win away from eliminating the defending champs. There were a number of bad calls during that game, including a Kobe Bryant elbow to the jaw of Kings guard Mike Bibby during a crucial juncture in the game the officials saw as a non-foul.
Controversy aside, however, the Kings undoubtedly gave the Lakers a few scares during their dynasty, ultimately falling just short in seven games in that epic 2002 series.
1. Portland Trail Blazers
Many consider the Kings to be the biggest challenge for the Lakers at that time, but in the mind of Shaq himself, the Portland Trail Blazers were the “toughest team” they ever faced in the playoffs. Who are we to contest O'Neal himself?
Much like the Kings, the Lakers also faced Portland in the playoffs in all three title runs. They made easy work of the Blazers in the first round in both the 2001 and 2002 playoffs, as the Lakers swept the Blazers in back-to-back seasons.
The biggest test actually came in the 2000 playoffs, when L.A. matched up against Rasheed Wallace, Scottie Pippen, Brian Grant, and the rest of the tough-as-nails Blazers side.
The Lakers were able to mount a 3-1 series lead, but somehow the Blazers clawed their way back to force a deciding Game 7. Everything was on the line at that point, and as O'Neal recalled, it was in this very ballgame that the “defining moment” of the Lakers' dynasty transpired — at least in his eyes.
With L.A. down 15 points in the fourth quarter and on the brink of squandering a seemingly insurmountable series advantage, the Lakers came up with a comeback for the ages. This was capped off by that unforgettable Kobe-to-Shaq alley-oop, which is arguably the most memorable moment of the Kobe-Shaq era.