Posted: Monday June 12, 2006 12:35PM; Updated: Monday June 12, 2006 2:45PM
Shaquille O'Neal's ineffectiveness through two games of the Finals undoubtedly has both player and coach Pat Riley frustrated.
John W. McDonough/SI
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Dallas takes the first two games of the Finals, the Heat look like they barely belong, Shaquille O'Neal looks ready to join the professional volleyball circuit and Dirk Nowitzki looks ready for the Hall of Fame. Can Miami turn it around? Can they rebound and stretch this to seven games, like the Pistons of a year ago? Will Dallas finish this series off quickly?
Answers? We've got a few. On to champs and chumps.
Chump: Shaquille O'Neal
It's hard to go any other direction at this point, as O'Neal's shoddy play is the biggest reason his team is down 0-2.
Shaq has some excuses: His teammates are not getting him the ball, they showed absolutely no patience in the half-court sets during Game 1 and threw a series of horrid entry passes at their All-Star center in Game 2. Consequently, he's been unable to get the ball in his comfort zone, and though a lot of the credit has to go to the sturdy frames and quick feet of Erick Dampier and DaSagana Diop (did you think you'd ever read that?), his teammates are still acting like they've never fed a 7-footer before.
Still, a lot of Shaq's issues stem from the lion-in-winter factor. He's explicitly relied on his bulk and relative quickness to dominate thus far in his career -- and now that this quickness has more or less dissipated, he's morphed into a nonentity. And while O'Neal should be lauded for putting up with 14 seasons of hacks and body blows, he needs to take the blame for never developing a series of offensive moves meant to counter Father Time. Outside of a shaky, Wilt Chamberlain-esque turnaround bank shot, Shaq hasn't debuted any new low-post gambits since the turn of the century, and this series' stats (11 points, 6.5 rebounds in 33 minutes per game) are the result.
Though we've never questioned the time and effort O'Neal put into trying to develop a consistent free throw stroke, the bottom line in June 2006 reads something like this: a 34-year-old basketball pro in his 14th season has missed 14 of 16 free throws combined over the first two games of his league's championship series. That's a long-winded bottom line, I know, but it doesn't even account for the three misses Shaq threw up during lane violations.
O'Neal will play better in Miami; it's hard to imagine him playing any worse than he did in Game 2 (five points, six rebounds in 28 minutes). Look for Pat Riley to really clear the floor for his big guy with sets that feature Shaq as the only Heatian within 20 feet of the basket. It's illegal to place four players beyond the three-point line with the fifth guy in the post, but Riley will push that -- if only to get Shaq off early. O'Neal needs to convert quickly, and for Wilt's sake, pick up a stinkin' block or five. He's yet to send a shot back in 66 minutes of Finals "action."