This is the eleventh in a series of articles featuring a countdown of the Top 16 Greatest Lakers of All-Time, as decided by the followers of Lakers UK on Twitter and Instagram.
Continuing with number 5 – Shaquille O’Neal. We’ll take an in-depth look at his greatest play as a member of the Los Angeles Lakers.
The Big Aristotle played 8 of his 19 seasons in Los Angeles, joining after being wooed by Dr Jerry Buss and Jerry West. In his time with the Lakers he played 24,321 minutes in 636 minutes, scoring 17,278 points and blocking 1588 shots (2nd all-time among Laker players).
O’Neal signed with the Lakers in the summer of 1996, accepting a 7-year, $121 million contract. Remarking “I just want to play the game, drink Pepsi, wear Reebok”, referencing a couple endorsement deals he had at the time. He would, of course, go on to play a major role in one of the greatest dynasties ever formed, pairing with a young Kobe Bryant to deliver Laker fans 3 championships in 3 seasons between 2000 and 2002.
Shaq had some truly legendary moments in the purple and gold. One being his momentous performance against the Philidelphia 76ers in Game 2 of the 2001 NBA Finals. Recording a 20-20 and almost a quadruple-double, he had 28 points, 20 rebounds, 9 assists and 8 blocks. Another memorable game would be the performance he had on his 28th birthday on the 6th of March 2000. He scored 60 points (his career-high) and grabbed 23 rebounds against the Los Angeles Clippers as he led the Lakers to a 123-103 victory.
For this review, we have decided to relive his truly greatest play as a Laker. The faithful alley-oop he received from Kobe Bryant in the final minutes of Game 7 of the 2000 NBA Western Conference Finals.
The Alley-Oop – From Kobe To Shaq
It’s the 4th of June 2000, and it’s Game 7 of the Western Conference Finals. The Lakers are tied at 3-3 with the Portland Trail Blazers. LA had led the series 3-1 after 4 games, losing the last 2. The pressure was truly on the Lakers to finish the series and confine the fact they were up by 2 games to history.
In terms of game 7, Los Angeles kept pace with the Trail Blazers early, only trailing by 3 at half time, 42-39. Portland would then proceed to win the 3rd quarter 29-19, putting them up 71-58 heading into the 4th. Both Shaquille O’Neal and Kobe Bryant had struggled during the run, both playing all 12 minutes in the quarter and only combining for 4 points (all from Bryant).
All hope was beginning to look lost for the Lakers as fans prepared themselves for yet another disappointing end to the season. The team had failed to make it to the Finals in the last 3 seasons (exiting in the Conference Semi-Finals once and the Conference Finals twice).
The scoring would continue to go back and forth at the beginning of the 4th quarter, after 2 minutes it sat at 75-60. The purple and gold would then go on a run, starting with a hook shot in the right low post from O’Neal as he received the pass from Rick Fox.
Bonzi Wells would then come the other way and attempt to finish over the top of Fox inside, Bryant comes over with the help and smacks the ball out of the air as it floats towards the rim. He retrieves the loose ball and sets off in the other direction. The ball is passed the perimeter and come to Brian Shaw in the right corner, he rises for the shot and swishes it home. The score sits at 75-65 as Portland calls timeout.
Phil Jackson reminds his players to “shoot good shots” during the timeout, urging them to remain focused. Coming out of the break the Trail Blazers kick the ball around the floor before Scottie Pippen misses a 3 point shot. Shaw catches the long rebound as Bryant sets off on the fastbreak, Shaw gives him the rock, he attempts to go up and finish as he is fouled by Wells. He goes 1/2 from the line. The score is now at 75-66, 9 minutes left.
Portland then comes up and miss two opportunities to score, Lakers get the rebound and come up the other way as Arvydas Sabonis fouls O’Neal underneath as he battles for position down low, earning himself his 5th foul. Forcing the Trail Blazers to swap him out for Brian Grant, a player who has struggled to guard O’Neal the whole series.
Fox then takes a 3 point shot, missing off the back of the rim. O’Neal immediately proves his dominance over his substitute opponent, grabbing the rebound over the top of Grant. He then attempts to put the ball back up as he is fouled by Rasheed Wallace. He goes 1/2, cutting the lead to 8.
The teams go up and down, missing a couple times before the Lakers score once again. Shaw brings the ball up the court as the Staples Center rises to its feet. The Lakers pass the rock around a couple times before the ball finds its way back to Shaw, who shoots the relatively open three from the top. He misses as Robert Horry battles underneath to win the rebound. He pulls it back out as he dribbles to the right corner. He then takes a couple of side steps to his left as he comes out to the right-wing. Big Shot Rob then sets his feet and fires away, sinking the 3 as the crowd explodes, 75-70, 7 minutes left, they were in the process of bringing this game back from the brink.
The game carries on as the Trail Blazers continue to struggle to finish, Bryant brings the ball up the floor as the clock ticks down past 6 minutes. The Lakers start running their set, as Bryant passes it off and proceeds to run into the paint and curls around the left corner before receiving the ball at the top of the key. Guarded by Pippen, he fakes the shot, takes a couple of dribbles round to the left elbow, and pulls up and connects from 11 feet. The crowd rejoice once again as the Lakers are now within 3, 75-72, 5:40 left.
Portland comes up and has another couple of opportunities to stop the bleeding, they were getting offensive rebounds but were unable to finish as Bryant retrieves their second attempt as it clunks off the rim. Portland would then come again as Bryant misses a 3 to tie. They give it to Grant in the post, who is emphatically blocked by O’Neal as he puts up a floater. Pippen retrieves the rebound and the ball ends up in the hands of Wallace, he puts up a long 2 that bounces off the front of the rim and out. Laker ball.
That’s 12 straight misses for the Blazers, the Lakers are on a 12-0 run as Bryant brings the ball up, looking to extend it. They start moving the ball around as Shaw throws an entry pass to O’Neal as he waits in the post. Steve Smith, who is guarding Shaw, immediately comes to double O’Neal. Who kicks it back out to the now open Shaw, he rises and drains the 3 as the roof comes off the building. The Lakers have tied the game! 75-75, 4 minutes left.
The teams go up and down a few more times before Portland finally manage to snap the streak, just inside 3 minutes. Sabonis dumps it into Wallace who finishes over the top of O’Neal, earning the Trail Blazers only their 2nd field goal of the 4th quarter. Going the other way and Sabonis earns his 6th foul as he sends O’Neal to the line. He goes 2/2 as he ties the game 77-77.
Portland continue their struggle as Grant takes a 2 point jumper and misses badly as it bounces off the backboard. O’Neal chases down the long rebound and sets off on the break but is forced to pick up his dribble. The Lakers then get into their half-court offence as O’Neal takes position in the right low post. He receives the ball and immediately spins baseline, putting up a hook shot with his right hand. It connects, giving the Lakers their first lead since halfway through the 3rd quarter, the building explodes as the camera cuts to a dejected Sabonis on the Portland bench. Lakers lead 79-77, 2 minutes left.
O’Neal is then called for a goaltend on the other end, tieing the game at 79. Bryant earns himself 2 free throws as he attacks the paint, going 2/2 at the line and giving the Lakers a 2 point lead. A minute and a half left in the game. O’Neal then picks up a foul on the other end and sends Wallace to the charity line, he misses both as the den that is the Staples Center taunts him.
Bryant then comes up and goes one on one with Pippen, shaking him with a hesitation dribble as he rises up and hits from 16 feet, 4 point lead, 1:08 left. Pippen comes up the floor and puts up an early 3 point shot from the left-wing, O’Neal pulls down the rebound as the clock hits 55 seconds. The Lakers bring the ball up the floor as they look to sink the dagger deeper into the Blazers. Here comes that famous play.
Bryant is pressured by Pippen as he crosses the timeline, stopping on the “S” of the logo as he allows his teammates to get into position. Meanwhile, O’Neal is peeling around the right side of the paint as he is fronted by his man, Grant. Bryant is dribbling with his left hand as he takes a breath. He then goes between the legs to his right and crosses back to his left as he strikes, wrong-footing Pippen. Grant comes across to help as Bryant drives the paint, leaving O’Neal open on the baseline.
O’Neal then points to the rim as Bryant is surrounded. He throws the ball towards the right side of the rim, over the outstretched arm of Grant, as O’Neal launches his 325 lbs frame into the air. He palms the ball with his right hand as he pounds it home. The arena implodes in celebration as Mike Dunleavy calls for time. Fans begin to invade the court, LA leads by 6. 40 seconds left.
Coming out of the timeout Steve Smith receives the ball of the inbound, running through a Wallace screen. He gets doubled as he picks up his dribble, knocking it back to Wallace at the top of the 3 point line. He puts up a long, long 3 point shot, swishing it home from 30 feet and cutting the lead in half. Horry launches the inbound 3/4 up the court to Ron Harper as Pippen fouls him, sending him to the line. Harper goes 1/2 as he puts the team up by 4, 32 seconds left, Portland calls for time.
The ball comes to Smith off the inbound, he drives to the paint hard. The ball is knocked loose as he faces hard defence from O’Neal. Bryant grabs the loose ball as Pippen rushes to foul him, earning himself his 6th foul and sending Bryant to the line. He misses both as the second rims in and out, the Trail Blazers call timeout, as they come back they have 25 seconds left to make something happen.
The ball finds itself in the hands of Smith once again, he attempts and misses a mid-range jumper. Horry comes down with the rebound and is fouled, sending him for 2 free throws. he hits both as the Blazers are out of timeouts. Lakers lead 88-82, 17 seconds left.
Damon Stoudamire will then rush the ball up the floor and sprint to the cylinder, finishing a layup with 11 seconds left, 4 point game. Horry is fouled once again of the inbound, he’ll shoot 2 more. In no way are the Lakers out of the woods yet.
He misses both as Portland grab the rebound and rush onto offence. Wells pulls up for a 3 and misses badly, the ball bounces out of bounds, Laker ball with 4 seconds to play. Steve Smith rushes to intercept the inbound pass but can only knock the ball back out of play. Laker ball, 3.5 seconds left.
The ball then comes to Horry once again as Portland fouls, 2.7 seconds left. He hits the first as the camera shows joyous Kobe Bryant, 5 point lead. The Blazers are done. Horry misses the second, but it doesn’t matter. Portland has accepted their fate and lets the clock run out. Lakers win!
Greatness was always expected for Shaquille O’Neal. Drafted by the Orlando Magic with the number one pick in the 1992 NBA Draft, he made his way to Los Angeles in the summer of ’96.
As a Laker, he would earn an NBA scoring title, 6 NBA All-Star selections, 2 NBA All-Star MVPs, 3 NBA All-Defensive Second Team selections, 2 All-NBA Third Team selections, an All-NBA Second Team selection, 4 All-NBA First Team selections, an NBA MVP, 3 NBA Championships, 3 NBA Finals MVPs and later an induction into the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame.
In 2013 the Lakers made it so no other Laker would wear number 34 again, hanging his jersey in the rafters of the Staples Center. Becoming the tenth player to have his number retired by the Los Angeles Lakers. All these achievements more than cement his no.5 place as a true Laker great!
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