This year marked the return of playoff success for the Boston Celtics, who had last made the playoffs in 1995, won their last playoff series in 1992 and made their last Eastern Conference Finals appearance in 1988. Though they eventually lost to the Nets 4-2 (preventing a Celtics–Lakers NBA Finals), they did create the biggest 4th quarter playoff comeback in Game 3, winning 94-90 after trailing by as much as 21 prior to the fourth quarter. (This record was later broken by the Los Angeles Clippers, who came back from 24 in the fourth quarter against the Memphis Grizzlies in 2012).
The Detroit Pistons won their first playoff series since 1991. They would lose in the Eastern Conference Semifinals to the Celtics in five games.
The playoffs also marked the last appearance of the Charlotte Hornets in the playoffs until 2010. The Hornets moved the next year to New Orleans, while an expansion team, formerly the Bobcats, was formed in 2004. The Hornets were renamed the Pelicans in 2013, after which the Bobcats reclaimed the Hornets name in 2014. The Hornets also reclaimed the history and records of the 1988–2002 Charlotte teams. The Charlotte Coliseum played host to its final playoff game on May 12.
The playoffs marked the last time NBC and TBS aired NBA games as regular TV partners of the league. The last TBS-aired game under its various contracts was Game 5 of the Lakers-Spurs series, while Game 4 of the NBA Finals marked the last telecast on NBC. TBS and NBC were replaced with ESPN and ABC the following season, since both channels are owned by the Walt Disney Company. TBS has aired some NBA basketball in the ensuing years due to conflicts on sister network TNT.
For the first time in his career, Michael Jordan missed the playoffs. Pat Riley would also miss the playoffs for the first time in his coaching career.
The total number of playoff games was 70, including the NBA Finals.
The Sacramento Kings clinched the best record in the NBA, and earned home court advantage throughout the entire playoffs. However, when Sacramento lost to the Los Angeles Lakers in the Western Conference Finals, the Lakers gained home court advantage for the NBA Finals.
The Spurs led going into the fourth quarter of all five games, yet were able to win only one. Bryant would pace Los Angeles to 2 crucial victories in the Alamodome with 31 points in Game 3 and a game-winning bucket in Game 4, and would offset the steady production of Tim Duncan (who had a double double in every game including 34 points and 25 rebounds in Game 5) with his fourth quarter heroics. It would be San Antonio's final 2 home games in the Alamodome, as they would move into the SBC Center (now the AT&T Center) the following year.
The 2002 Western Conference Finals is widely regarded as one of the best series in NBA playoff history, with the last four games coming down to the final seconds. Two games were decided on game winning shots and Game 7 was decided in overtime. However, the series was marred by controversy and allegations of corruption. On June 10, 2008, convicted NBA referee Tim Donaghy's attorney filed a court document alleging that Game 6 was fixed by two referees. The letter states that Donaghy "learned from Referee A that Referees A and F wanted to extend the series to seven games. Tim knew Referees A and F to be 'company men', always acting in the interest of the NBA, and that night, it was in the NBA's interest to add another game to the series." The Lakers won Game 6 106-102, attempting 18 more free throws than the Kings in the fourth quarter, and went on to win the series, and eventually the NBA championship. The document claimed that Donaghy told federal agents that in order to increase television ratings and ticket sales, "top executives of the NBA sought to manipulate games using referees". It also said that NBA officials would tell referees to not call technical fouls on certain players, and states that a referee was privately reprimanded by the league for ejecting a star player in the first quarter of a January 2000 game. Stern denied the accusations, calling Donaghy a "singing, cooperating witness".
The Lakers and Kings split the first two games in Sacramento. Los Angeles raced out to a 36-point first quarter in Game 1 behind 67% shooting and never trailed, paced by Kobe Bryant's 30 point effort and 26 points from Shaquille O'Neal. Chris Webber had 28 points and 14 rebounds, but the other Kings combined shot under 40 percent. Sacramento rebounded to win Game 2, paced behind Webber (21 points, 13 rebounds) and Mike Bibby (20 points). O'Neal had 35 points and 13 rebounds, but struggled with foul trouble; Bryant shot 9-for-21 from the field and was suffering from food poisoning which he contracted from a meal at the team hotel, and some felt it was done deliberately by the hotel staff. The loss snapped the NBA record 12-game playoff road winning streak for the Lakers.
The Kings went to Staples Center and dominated Game 3 to regain home-court advantage, leading by as many as 27 and never trailing. They were again paced by Webber and Bibby, who combined for 50 points, and got solid contributions from Doug Christie (17 points, 12 rebounds, 6 assists, 3 steals) and Vlade Divac (11 points, 9 rebounds and 3 blocks). Other than a brief 3-point barrage in the 4th quarter by the Lakers to cut the lead to 12, there was not much help provided for O'Neal, who had 20 points and 19 rebounds.
In Game 4, Sacramento again got out to a fast start with a 40-point first quarter and built a 24-point first half lead. However, the Lakers cut the lead to 14 at halftime with a Samaki Walker 3-pointer at the buzzer that should not have counted (replay was not used at the time), and to 7 after three quarters. They whittled it down to 2 on the final possession with a chance to tie or win it, but Bryant missed a running layup and Shaq missed a put-back attempt. Divac knocked the ball away from the hoop in an attempt to run out the clock, but instead it wound up going to a wide open Robert Horry at the arc, who hit a 3 over Webber at the buzzer to give the Lakers an improbable victory, which tied the series going back to Sacramento. The shot earned Horry his nickname "Big Shot Bob." Horry scored 11 of his 18 points in the 4th quarter, including two more crucial 3-pointers. O'Neal finished with 27 points and 18 rebounds, Bryant with 25. Divac, Webber and Bibby all finished with 20+ points for the Kings.
As the series shifted back to Sacramento for Game 5, the Kings trailed almost the entire fourth quarter, but a jump shot by Bibby off a screen with 8.2 seconds left gave them the lead and was the game-winner in a 92-91 win. Bibby scored 23 in all, and Webber had 29 points and 13 rebounds in support. Bryant led L.A. with 30 points, but missed a potential game winner at the buzzer. O'Neal had 28 points, but did not take a shot in the 4th quarter and fouled out.
Game 6 is considered to be one of the most controversial games in NBA history, as numerous questionable calls went against the Kings in the fourth quarter. The Lakers, led by O'Neal's 41 points and 17 rebounds, won 106-102, setting the stage for Game 7 in Sacramento. There are allegations that the game was affected by the referees in relationship to the Tim Donaghy scandal. The Lakers shot 40 free throws overall, 27 in the fourth quarter alone, and the Kings' big men were plagued with foul trouble (Divac, Webber, Scot Pollard, and Lawrence Funderburke were called for 20 fouls, with Divac and Pollard both fouling out). Webber nearly had a triple double (26 points, 13 rebounds and 8 assists), Bibby scored 23, and Divac had 12 points and 12 rebounds.The Washington Post sports columnist Michael Wilbon responded to the calls in Game 6: "I wrote down in my notebook six calls that were stunningly incorrect, all against Sacramento, all in the fourth quarter when the Lakers made five baskets and 21 foul shots to hold on to their championship." For example, Wilbon pointed out that Kobe Bryant did not get a foul call after elbowing Mike Bibby in front of an official.
Game 7 was tense, featuring 16 ties and 19 lead changes. In the final ten seconds with L.A. up 99-98, Peja Stojakovic air-balled a wide open 3, and O'Neal was fouled on the rebound. After O'Neal hit 1 of 2 free throws, Bibby was fouled by Bryant and made both free throws to force overtime. The Kings' offense stalled in the extra period, and the Lakers prevailed 112-106. Sacramento was undone by poor free throw shooting (16-30 from the line), a horrid 2-20 from behind the arc, and a seeming unwillingness for anyone other than Bibby to take crucial shots down the stretch. O'Neal scored 35 and Bryant added 30 in the victory, as all five Laker starters finished in double figures. Bibby finished with 29 points, and Webber finished with 20 points, 11 rebound, and 8 assists. Divac added 15 points and 10 rebounds.
Although the Nets won the series in 5, it would be most remarkable for more playoff heroics by Reggie Miller; Miller banked in a 40-footer at the buzzer to force OT, and then fly in for a dunk over 3 Net defenders with 3.1 seconds left in the extra session to force the 2nd overtime.
This series involved two teams that had exceeded expectations during the season. The Detroit Pistons were coming off a year where they had lost 50 games. The Raptors had lost their star forward, Vince Carter, for the remainder of the season. As a result, the Raptors lost 13 straight games without him. Although they looked down and out of playoff contention, the Raptors went on a surge, winning 12 of their last 14 games, locking up the 7th seed. The home team won each game of the series, with the Pistons winning the decisive Game 5 by 3 points. Raptors' Guard, Chris Childs, attempted to draw a foul on a three-point shot, instead of passing it to an open Dell Curry. In the post game interview, Childs stated that he thought the team was down by four points, not three. Detroit advanced to face the Boston Celtics in the second round.
This series marked the return of the Celtics to the playoffs for the first time in seven years, and they faced the reigning Eastern Conference champion in the first round. The first two games were played in Boston, where the Celtics won both games resoundingly. The 76ers fought back, however, and with Allen Iverson scoring 42 points the 76ers won Game 3 and stayed alive. In Game 4, Iverson was slowed down, scoring 26 points on just 9-of-26 shooting, and Antoine Walker stepped up for the Celtics, scoring 25. But Iverson's play at the end making a layup, scoring off an Eric Snow steal, and hitting some free throws after Walker drilled a three sealed the victory for the 76ers. This set the stage for a Game 5 in Boston to decide the series. The Celtics had control on this game throughout, but the 76ers kept within striking distance into the 4th quarter. But Boston went on an amazing streak of three-pointers, hitting an NBA playoff record nine of them in the 4th quarter and 19 in the game. Paul Pierce led the way with 46, on 8-10 shooting from downtown, and Boston won in a huge blowout, sending them to the conference semifinals to face second-seed Detroit.
The Nets won game one, but Boston came back to steal game two in New Jersey to send the series back to Boston tied 1-1. In Game 3, the Celtics were down by 21 coming into the 4th quarter, but the Celtics accomplished the biggest comeback in NBA Playoff history as the Celtics outscored the Nets 41-16 in the fourth quarter. The Celtics almost completed another comeback in game four, but the Nets held on for the victory to tie the series at two games apiece. The Nets won games five and six to advance to the team's first of two consecutive NBA Finals.
Last Playoff Meeting: This is the first meeting between the Lakers and Nets.
In Game 1, the Nets stayed within striking distance, but Shaquille O'Neal's 36 points and 16 rebounds led the Lakers to victory. In Game 2, the Nets were blown out by 23, with O'Neal leading the way again, putting up 40 points and 12 rebounds and coming within 2 assists of a triple double. This brought the series to New Jersey with the Lakers up 2-0. Game 3 was a close matchup with Jason Kidd, Kenyon Martin, O'Neal, and Kobe Bryant all scoring 26 or more points. Bryant and O'Neal's combined 71 points was too much for the Nets to handle though, and the Lakers took a 3-0 series lead. In Game 4, O'Neal put up 34 points and the Lakers won the game and the championship, accomplishing the NBA's first 3-peat since Michael Jordan and the Bulls did so in 1993.