Work in Sports
LOS ANGELES (Ticker) -- Shaquille O'Neal refused to let the Los Angeles Lakers' dream season end, again displaying the form that makes him an opponent's worst nightmare.
The 7-1 center imposed his will from the outset, scoring 20 of his 32 points in the first half, as the Lakers never trailed in routing the Sacramento Kings, 113-86, in the decisive fifth game of their Western Conference first-round playoff series.
O'Neal, the likely NBA Most Valuable Player, was not his dominant self in Sacramento during Games Three and Four, when the Lakers squandered a two games to none lead. Tonight, they returned to the Staples Center, where they improved to an NBA-best 38-5.
"I didn't play well Sunday, tonight I did," O'Neal said. "I told the referees at the first jump to watch their illegal defense."
O'Neal's advice did not go unheeded as the Kings were called for illegal defense twice in the early stages and were unable to deal with the Lakers' top threat thereafter.
Facing the possibility of being part of the biggest first-round flop in NBA history, O'Neal lifted the Lakers on his prodigious shoulders. He made 10-of-15 shots and outrebounded the Kings, 14-12, in the first 24 minutes as the Lakers opened a healthy 59-44 halftime advantage.
"Shaq dominated this game," Los Angeles coach Phil Jackson said. "He went right at them from the very beginning. Defensively, Shaq was very agressive. Just look at his blocked shots and rebounds for the total picture."
O'Neal finished 15-of-24 from the field, grabbed 18 boards, handed out four assists and blocked three shots in 35 minutes, watching most of the fourth quarter with a towel draped over his head. The Lakers will meet the Phoenix Suns in the Western Conference semifinals, beginning Sunday.
"This series was a good test," O'Neal said. "I was kind of down on myself after having two bad games in Sacramento. I was feeling loose tonight. I told the guys to get it to me and my shots were falling. Thank God for home-court advantage."
Kobe Bryant scored 17 points in 34 minutes and Glen Rice added 14 points for Los Angeles, which held a whopping 54-35 advantage on the boards and dominated every facet of the game.
"We came out with a lot of energy and intensity," Bryant said. "We had a lot on the line tonight and really stepped up and showed character."
Chris Webber scored 20 points for the Kings, who have not won a playoff series since 1981, when they were located in Kansas City.
Webber was the lone player in double figures for Sacramento, which went without a basket for over eight minutes to fall behind 104-67 with 6:48 to play before Darrick Martin's driving layup.
"They came out in the third quarter and jumped all over us," Kings coach Rick Adelman said. "That was the key to the game. When they jumped out in the third quarter and pushed the lead to 20-25 points, that was pretty much it."
"I'm hurt, I'm very discouraged, I'm mad, sad and all those words," Webber said. "That's what you have to expect. Big players play and lot of us on this team need to realize that in order for us to make names for ourselves we have to realize that being 'America's sweetheart team' and playing on TV is not enough. We need to win."
The Lakers shot 52 percent (47-of-90) and scored 22 points off turnovers.
A.C. Green scored 10 points, Rick Fox nine and Robert Horry and Derek Fisher added eight apiece for Los Angeles, which took a 2-0 lead on O'Neal's nine-footer and did not appear the least bit worried thereafter.
O'Neal had a layup, a six-footer and fed Bryant for a jumper as the Lakers opened a 16-8 lead with 4:42 remaining in the first quarter. He dunked, made a seven-foot hook and finally missed from nine feet before going to the bench with 1:13 left in the period and Los Angeles holding a 26-14 lead.
O'Neal began the second quarter with a layup and a six-footer, stretching the margin to 35-22. He dunked, hit from eight feet, and dunked again before Green's layup gave Los Angeles a 15-point cushion at the break.
Two layups, an eight-footer and two free throws by O'Neal helped Los Angeles to an 80-57 bulge with 3:32 remaining in the third quarter. The Kings showed little signs of life thereafter.