Throughout his time with the Los Angeles Lakers, Shaquille O’Neal understood the fine line between his ferocity on the court and his comedic timing off of it. Known as one of the NBA’s greatest entertainers, O’Neal was still able to bring the hammer down and always gave his full effort.
Entering the 2000s, O’Neal soon also found a level of respect for then-head coach Phil Jackson, as they were able to push each other’s buttons in the right ways towards three NBA championships. Although he was never consistently in shape during his career, O’Neal’s status as a physical specimen displayed on constant occasions.
One example came on Feb. 15, 2000, as the soon-to-be MVP pushed his limits in a hard-fought contest. The Lakers traveled to the United Center to face off against the Chicago Bulls, with a crowd of over 23,000 in attendance.
O’Neal, Kobe Bryant, A.C. Green, Glen Rice, and Ron Harper comprised the starting five for Jackson, as he and Harper both made their returns to a franchise they helped raise to championship status.
When it was all said and done, the game would end as a rather low-scoring one, with solid defense and poor shooting from the supporting cast affecting the outcome. Los Angeles got out to a 22-18 lead after the first, with the Bulls bouncing back in the second.
Ron Artest, Toni Kukoc, and Elton Brand were the main scoring options for head coach Tim Floyd, as they outscored the Lakers by seven to take a 49-46 lead into the half.
However, the Bulls had no match for O’Neal, as No. 34 had his way around the rim. Not only was he scoring at will in the paint, but he also owned the glass, finishing the game with 20 rebounds (15 on defense; five on the other side of the floor).
His presence in the paint led to foul trouble, with Kukoc and Brand being left to guard him once Will Purdue fouled out. The Lakers took a one-point lead into the final quarter, where their 1-2 punch would close out the game.
While O’Neal was the clear X-factor, Bryant also contributed 21 points, five rebounds, five assists, five steals and two blocks. The final quarter provided some offensive contrast, with both teams below 60 points through three quarters.
Los Angeles managed to reach 30 in the fourth quarter, creating separation on the way to their 38th victory of the season by ultimately blowing out the Bulls, 88-76.
O’Neal, who played 47 of 48 total minutes, finished with 29 points, 20 rebounds, one assist and two blocked shots. The 15-time All-Star proved to be too much to handle, in what turned out to be an MVP and championship season.
Not only did he shoot 9-for-16 from the field, but he also shot an unprecedented 11-for-12 from the free-throw line. While the 20-20 performance was impressive, perhaps the more important feat was that O’Neal only sat out one minute the entire game.
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