Barber: Brian Shaw compares Warriors’ run to ‘01 Lakers

Brian Shaw reflects on the 2001 LA team that went 11-0 before falling to the 76ers in overtime.|

According to Brian Shaw, it wasn’t a brilliant shot or a heroic blocked shot that kept the 2001 Los Angeles Lakers from becoming the undisputed greatest team in NBA postseason history. It was a questionable tactic by Eric Snow on a routine trip up the court.

The Lakers had scored the first five points of overtime and were leading the Philadelphia 76ers 99-94 in Game 1 of the NBA Finals that year when the Lakers’ Robert Horry stole a bad pass from Snow. Horry dribbled upcourt as the crowd buzzed, ready for yet another win at Staples Center.

Then Snow stopped on a dime and Horry, head turned away from the defense for a second, ran into him. Official Dick Bavetta called an offensive foul and gave the ball to the Sixers.

“To this day, I believe that when something is done that is not in the spirit of the game, then it shouldn’t be a call,” Shaw said by phone recently. “Players can do that all night long, just run in front of somebody and stop. Regardless, the call was made and there was still game to be played.”

But some sort of alchemy had been achieved. Philadelphia scored the next nine points and went on to win 107-101, soiling the Lakers’ record after they had begun the postseason 11-0.

Since then, no team has entered the NBA Finals undefeated. Until now. Thursday, the Warriors will bring their record 12-0 mark into another championship showdown with the Cleveland Cavaliers.

Though separated by 16 years, there are connections between the two playoff superpowers. The dagger in the 76ers’ overtime run was a 3-pointer by Allen Iverson (he scored 48 in the game), which he punctuated by stepping provocatively over prone defender Tyronn Lue; Lue will now face the Warriors as head coach of the Cavaliers. Shaw, then a Los Angeles guard, currently is an assistant coach there under Luke Walton, who was Golden State’s top assistant during the Finals in 2015 and 2016. Both teams beat Portland in the first round and San Antonio in the Western Conference final (though the 2001 Lakers had Sacramento in the middle, not Utah).

Another similarity: Each will have enjoyed a luxurious nine days off between wrapping up the Western Conference and tipping off in the NBA Finals. Shaw didn’t claim the layoff as an excuse.

“Phil Jackson never liked to give us two days off in row,” he said. “It would be practice, day off, practice. He wanted us to stay sharp, didn’t want to wear us out. It was like a second season going that deep. But I wouldn’t even say we were rusty. Iverson had a hell of a game.”

Mostly though, they are united by those crazy playoff records. The 2001 Lakers recovered from the overtime loss in Game 1 to sweep the next four against Philadelphia. Their postseason tally of 15-1 remains the NBA gold standard.

And, man, they came close to 16-0. The final 1:38 of Game 1 was a scoreless slog, during which Kobe Bryant had a 10-foot shot blocked by Philly’s Aaron McKie and Horry missed a 5-footer after grabbing the rebound.

Shaquille O’Neal missed 12 free throws in the game.

Looking back, Shaw admits to a minor pang of regret.

“It would have been kind of nice,” he said. “You hear debates all the time, like the Miami Dolphins being the only (NFL) team to go undefeated (in 1972). Each year a team goes out on a nice roll, and when they lose they interview the guys who did it (in ’72). It would be nice to get that kind of attention, but at the end of the day it doesn’t matter too much.”

Now the Warriors get their shot at 16-0. The Undefeated Question began to pop up even before they got out of the West. You knew it would. And so far they have said all the right things when asked about it. It’s the 12 that is important, not the 0, because it has propelled them to the final round.

True, true.

When his team was upset by Philadelphia on June 6, 2001, Shaw said, there wasn’t a lot of gloom in the locker room.

“I don’t think it shook anyone’s confidence,” he said. “It would have been nice to have a clean run all the way, but we got right back in the groove and won four straight.”

Those Lakers were immensely talented, with twin future Hall of Famers in O’Neal and Bryant. It created equal amounts of comfort and pressure for role players like Shaw.

“When they’re triple-teamed and the ball swings to you, whether you make the shot or swing it to the next guy who’s open, you want to make the right play,” he said. “We had a joke that between Shaq and Kobe, if they scored 65 or 70 between the two of them and the rest of us scored another 30 or 35 points - so if we scored 100 - and we could hold the other team under 100, that’s our formula. So the pressure was on Shaq and Kobe to score 65 points or whatever.”

But talent alone cannot explain an 11-0 or 12-0 start in the postseason.

Plenty of other super-teams have failed to do it. A run like that takes mental focus, emotional stability, a bit of luck and that ineffable factor known as momentum.

During our conversation, Shaw talked a lot about “flow” and “rhythm” - things he felt frequently during the Lakers’ three consecutive title runs in 2000, 2001 and 2002.

“I think it was that first year, we won 19 games in a row and the media started talking about that ’72 Lakers record, where they won 33 straight,” said Shaw, who graduated from Bishop O’Dowd High School in Oakland and played 39 games for the Warriors in 1997-98. “We were doing yoga, t’ai chi, meditating. We had a nice groove, then we lost home to Toronto. Then we won like 16 in a row right after that. We were like, wow, if we hadn’t dropped that one game, it would have been 35 or 36 in a row.”

Shaw almost nailed it. The Lakers did win 19 consecutive times in 2000, though it was a loss to Washington that broke the streak, and it was an 11-game winning spree after that.

The Warriors can certainly relate to that groove. They won 24 games to start the 2015-16 season and were 31-2 after 33 games that year.

I saved the big question for last.

Does Shaw think his hometown team, the Warriors, can sweep the one coached by his former teammate, the Cavaliers? His answer: probably not. But you never know.

“Nothing would surprise me,” Shaw said. “It’s a seven-game series. If either the Warriors or Cleveland got into that zone or rhythm, it could go decisively one way or the other.”

That would be music to the ears of the Warriors and their fans. Because no one around here is thinking about 12-4.

You can reach Phil Barber at 707-521-5263 or phil.barber@pressdemocrat.com. Follow him on Twitter: @Skinny_Post.

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