Shaq attacked, Kobe bounced back and the Los Angeles Lakers got on track.
The Lakers responded like defending champions and evened the NBA Finals at one game each with a 98-89 victory over the feisty Philadelphia 76ers.
Shaquille O'Neal and Kobe Bryant both had huge games for the Lakers, who were stunned in overtime in Game One but found a way to slow down Allen Iverson. They held the league Most Valuable Player to 23 points, 10 off his playoff average and less than half of his 48-point explosion in the opener.
O'Neal flirted with the first quadruple-double in Finals history with 28 points, 20 rebounds, nine assists and a record-tying eight blocked shots. Working against Defensive Player of the Year Dikembe Mutombo, he was a one-man wrecking crew in the last five minutes of the third quarter, when the Lakers grabbed control.
"Coach wanted to me to protect the basket more," said O'Neal, who tied a record shared by Bill Walton, Hakeem Olajuwon and Patrick Ewing. "We felt they were getting too many easy shots the first half. So I just tried to step up my defense in the second half."
"I thought Shaq was the dramatically better defensive player in this game," Lakers coach Phil Jackson said.
After a poor performance in Game One, Bryant reminded everyone that he is a superstar, too. He scored 31 points and was extremely aggressive on the offensive end, giving Philadelphia's defense fits.
"I was so upset after Game One," Bryant said. "I didn't want to come out and try to do too much to start the game and take us out of the rhythm of our offense."
"Kobe obviously got a little more room today," Jackson said. "He got some rhythm in his shot and he played a much better game."
Derek Fisher, who was shut out in the opener, also bounced back nicely with 14 points, including a clutch 3-pointer down the stretch. The shot turned back a last-gasp rally by the 76ers, who threw another scare into the heavily favored Lakers.
Even with Iverson frustrated, Philadelphia cut a 13-point deficit in the fourth quarter to 89-86 with more than two minutes to go. But the 76ers stalled themselves by making a Shaq-like 6-of-16 free throws in the final period, including four misses each by Iverson and rookie Raja Bell.
In the waning seconds, Iverson and Bryant got into a heated shouting match and had to be separated by teammates and referees.
"In the heat of the battle, nothing's friendly," Bryant said.
"Ask him," Iverson said. "That's just basketball, man."
Bryant, Fisher and Tyronn Lue combined to do a credible job on Iverson, who made just 10-of-29 shots. He was hit in the face three times in the first half but did not go to the line until the fourth quarter. During the season, Iverson averaged 10 free throws per game.
"As much punishment as I take out there, things that I go through out there, I just can't remember the last time I only went to the free throw line (four times)," Iverson said.
"I would hope he'll get a little more respect," Sixers coach Larry Brown said.
Game Three is Sunday in Philadelphia, where the series shifts for the next three games. The Sixers are trying to win their first title since 1983.
O'Neal's overpowering third quarter gave the Lakers a 77-67 lead going into the final period. Iverson got a technical foul for arguing a non-call after shooting an airball on a 3-pointer at the buzzer.
Iverson's first free throws came at the 10:31 mark and he missed both. Bryant had a 3-pointer, lobbed to O'Neal for a dunk and made a pair at the line to give LA its largest lead at 86-73 with 7:10 left.
But O'Neal took a seat with his fifth foul 32 seconds later and the Sixers began their customary comeback. They pressured the ball, forced bad shots and attacked the basket, creeping within 89-86 with 2:24 to play.
"We ended up taking a game that was relatively benign and making it pretty exciting in the end," Jackson said. "We did it through no good clock management or ball management."
"They keep on coming. They play hard," Bryant said. "You have to respect that."