LOS ANGELES -- The Sacramento Kings gave Shaquille O'Neal a little more room to roam than most teams do.
They wound up paying an expensive price.
O'Neal was at his dominating best with 44 points, 21 rebounds and seven blocked shots Sunday as the defending NBA champion Los Angeles Lakers held off the Kings 108-105 to begin their second-round playoff series.
Kobe Bryant added 29 points for the Lakers, meaning their teammates combined to score only 35.
In the end, though, it didn't matter, although the Kings were in contention all the way.
''They were staying with Foxy, they were staying with Fish,'' Bryant said, referring to Rick Fox and Derek Fisher. ''That opened up the entire middle for Shaq to operate.''
And operate O'Neal did.
O'Neal, who had 13 of his team's 24 points and nine of its 16 rebounds in the fourth quarter, said his teammates were looking for him.
''They were not doubling me, so I just tried to take the high-percentage shots,'' he said. ''Close to the basket, I'm going to take those shots all night.
''Whatever they throw at me, I'll be ready. They're probably going to double me a little more quickly.''
O'Neal, who made 17-of-32 shots and 10-of-19 free throws, also had five of his 11 offensive rebounds in the final period.
''Shaq saved the day time and again by getting all those offensive rebounds,'' teammate Brian Shaw said. ''They're going to have to figure out a way to combat that.''
Kings coach Rick Adelman said as much.
''The guy is unbelievable,'' Adelman said. ''He's big, he's strong, he's quick. He really has learned how to play to his physical talents. I thought Vlade (Divac) and Scot (Pollard) tried, but he's a handful.
''I'm more concerned about the amount of holding and grabbing Rick Fox did on Predrag (Stojakovic).''
Guarded mainly by Fox, Stojakovic made only 6-of-18 shots in scoring 20 points.
Fox reacted to Adelman's remark by saying, ''Is he Dunleavy's brother or something,'' referring to Portland coach Mike Dunleavy.
Divac criticized the officiating concerning O'Neal, saying: ''They're going to change the rules next season, but I guess they changed them for this series. I have a lot of respect for Shaq, he's a great guy and a great player, but they weren't calling three seconds or swinging the elbows. It was ridiculous. Give me a break.''
Coming off a first-round sweep of Portland, the Lakers extended their season-high winning streak to 12 games -- eight to finish the regular season, and four in the playoffs. They haven't lost since April 1.
Game 2 in the best-of-seven series is Tuesday night at Staples Center before the series moves to Sacramento for the third and fourth games.
The Kings, who trailed the entire fourth quarter, scored six straight points capped by a jumper by Chris Webber with 24.1 seconds left to cut the Lakers' lead to 103-101.
Derek Fisher made 1-of-2 free throws less than a second later, and O'Neal blocked a driving layup by Jason Williams some five seconds after that.
Bryant made four foul shots after that to clinch the victory. Stojakovic's layup at the final buzzer completed the scoring.
Webber led Sacramento with a career playoff-high 34 points and eight rebounds. Williams added 14 points but committed six of the Kings' 16 turnovers, and Pollard had 14 rebounds in 21 minutes.
Two baskets by O'Neal and another by Robert Horry gave the Lakers a 90-80 lead -- largest of the game for either team -- with 10:40 remaining.
But the Kings battled back, and Webber's three-point play with 5:57 to play made it 97-93.
O'Neal missed four free throws in the next 1 1/2 minutes, but the Kings couldn't capitalize, and Bryant fed Horace Grant for an open baseline jumper with 3:48 left. O'Neal's follow dunk 40 seconds later made it 101-93.
Bryant scored 17 points in the third period, including the last four, helping the Lakers take an 84-78 lead into the fourth quarter.
O'Neal added 12 points in the period, with a basket by Grant accounting for the only other Los Angeles points.
Bucks 104, Hornets 92
MILWAUKEE -- Ray Allen scored nine of his 26 points in the fourth quarter and the Milwaukee Bucks beat the Charlotte Hornets 104-92 Sunday after nearly blowing a 22-point third-quarter lead in Game 1 of their Eastern Conference semifinal series.
Sam Cassell added 20 points and Glenn Robinson dished out a career-high 11 assists as the Bucks won the opener of their first best-of-seven series in 12 seasons.
Jamal Mashburn led Charlotte with 23 points, but his only basket of the fourth quarter came with 28 seconds left and his team down 101-90.
Game 2 is Tuesday night at the Bradley Center, where the Bucks, champions of the Central Division, have won 29 of their last 34 games.
The Hornets, who beat the Bucks by double digits three times during the regular season, trailed by 15 at halftime and fell behind by as many as 22 before pulling within five entering the fourth quarter.
Raptors 96, 76ers 93
PHILADELPHIA -- Vince Carter and Allen Iverson were equally spectacular. The difference was that Carter consistently put on a show, and Iverson could only do it in spurts.
Carter scored 35 points, including Toronto's final four, as the Raptors stole homecourt advantage from Philadelphia with a 96-93 victory Sunday in Game 1 of their second-round series.
''I can sense this team has grown up,'' said Carter, whose team surprised New York in the first round. ''In a crucial and intense situation like that, we're able to run the plays instead of taking a wild shot. We've learned, I think.''
The 76ers trailed for the final 40 minutes but came close to forcing overtime. Inbounding from midcourt with 5.8 seconds left, Iverson broke for the backcourt and Philadelphia got the ball to Aaron McKie for an open 3-pointer that missed just before the final buzzer.
Iverson finished with 36 points, including a 3-pointer with 7.8 seconds left that pulled the Sixers within one -- the closest they had been since the first quarter.
Iverson said he was supposed to receive the final inbounds pass, but did not explain why he ran into the backcourt to receive it.
''We had about six options on that play. Aaron was the second option. Everyone on the bench was hoping we could get a shot like that,'' 76ers coach Larry Brown said.
Carter, who tipped in his own missed shot with 12.8 seconds left to give the Raptors a four-point lead, made two free throws with 5.8 remaining for the game's final points.
Carter shot 13-for-29 and had seven assists, while Iverson was 11-for-34 with eight rebounds, seven steals and four assists.
Iverson made three of his first four shots, then missed 11 of his next 13. He was 4-for-8 in the third quarter and 2-for-9 in the fourth.
''Allen was a little anxious today,'' Brown said. ''Sometimes he wants to win so bad he doesn't wait for the game to come to him.''
Aside from Carter, 14-year veteran Dell Curry made the difference for Toronto by scoring 20 points and hitting four 3-pointers. Alvin Williams added 15 and Charles Oakley had 13, including a jumper with 49 seconds left that gave Toronto some much-needed breathing room.
Philadelphia trailed by as many as 17 and was behind by 12 early in the fourth before making a comeback.
Iverson dived through the air to deflect an inbounds pass with 90 seconds left, leading to George Lynch's dunk that cut Toronto's lead to 90-88.
Carter was isolated one-on-one against McKie on Toronto's next possession, and he went to the hole but missed. Antonio Davis grabbed the offensive rebound and the Raptors swung the ball to Oakley for a 17-footer that gave them a four-point lead.
Iverson hit two fouls shots to make it a two-point game before Carter got the ball in an isolation situation once again at the top of the key. Again the Sixers refused to send a second defender until Carter began his move, and Carter drove and shot the ball too hard off the backboard but outleaped everyone to tip it in for a 94-90 lead. It was just his second rebound of the game.
''The ball was just sitting there in the air, and I quickly went right back up and tried to get a finger on it before (Dikembe) Mutombo or anyone else could get to it,'' Carter said.
Carter ended the third quarter with an incredible off-balance shot over the outstretched hand of Tyrone Hill to give Toronto a 12-point lead entering the fourth.
Curry hit a short jumper with 9:26 remaining for an 80-68 lead before Philadelphia made its move, getting five points McKie and three from Iverson in an 11-2 run that got the deficit down to three.
Philadelphia had two chances to tie or pull within one. On the first, Iverson stole the ball from Oakley but threw a pass that Tyrone Hill couldn't handle. On the second, Iverson missed a reverse layup.
Carter answered with a three-point play, and Williams scored Toronto's next four points to make it 89-84 heading into the final two minutes.
''As soon as it ended I just looked at the scoreboard and said 'It's over.' Now I'll go home and play with my kids and forget about it,'' Iverson said. ''We've been here before and we know we have to execute better.''
Notes: The Sixers committed 11 turnovers in the first quarter. ... The 76ers have not won a best-of-seven series since 1984-85, going 0-6 since then. ... Eric Montross, who did not play in the New York series, grabbed five rebounds in five first-half minutes. ... Toronto's Chris Childs fouled out with 7:14 remaining and then drew a technical foul. Childs was scoreless in 24 minutes. ... Oakley took great pleasure in making fun of the New York Knicks, who lost to Toronto in the first round. ''They have no more tough guys. Ewing for Luc Longley was a bust,'' Oakley said. ''I hope they get more guys like him.''
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