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Hoop it up all week with SI.com's writers in the NBA Playoffs Blog, a daily journal of NBA commentary, on-site reporting and reader-driven discussions.
2:07 PM ET, 6/12/06

In search of Shaq

Posted by Chris Mannix
DALLAS -- This was supposed to be Shaquille O’Neal’s coming out party. Instead O’Neal decided not to come out at all.

The build up to Game 2 was that it would feature the return of Hollywood Shaq, the overpowering, dominating force that won three straight Finals MVP’s with the Lakers. After an impressive quality performance that lacked quantity in Game 1 (Shaq was 8-11 from the field) O’Neal came out on Sunday determined to elevate his game.

And scored five points. On five field goal attempts.

I don’t know what’s more startling: the fact that O’Neal posted career playoff lows in points, field goals attempted and field goals made or the fact that Miami was so pathetic at getting O’Neal quality looks at the basket. You weren’t going to find answers in the Miami locker room. James Posey meekly complimented Dallas’s rotations while Udonis Haslem struggled when asked to answer the inevitable question of how to get the Diesel more involved. O’Neal himself didn’t say anything at all; about 15 minutes after the locker room opened a Miami p.r. rep announced that O’Neal "had already left," a move that cost O’Neal $10,000 and Heat owner Mickey Arison another $25,000. Don’t tell me Shaq isn’t getting frustrated.

Defending Shaq is a science, a delicate blend of physical talent and intelligent designs. Dallas has both. Through two games they have confounded O’Neal by consistently sending three or four different players on the double-team. Sometimes it’s 6-foot-3 Devin Harris nipping at his elbows while other times O’Neal must look over the outstretched arms of Dirk Nowitzki. And despite the fact the Mavericks are remaining mum on the specifics of their strategies, this much is certain: it’s never the same look twice.

Then there is the matter of O’Neal’s free throw shooting. Let’s move past the debate on why Shaq can’t make free throws (though I sometimes wonder why someone like, say, Dikembe Mutombo never had the same problems). That conversation could take hours. But an emerging storyline in this series is the fact that if a team builds a sizeable lead on Miami, Shaq becomes such a liability that Pat Riley won’t even put him in the game. I liken O’Neal to a talented running back in the NFL: the ‘back can be as powerful as he wants but when the opposing team builds a sizeable lead, the ground game becomes useless. That was the case last night. Dallas built a 16-point halftime lead and the only way Miami could stage a comeback was to switch to a more perimeter oriented unit, one that did not include O’Neal.

Adjustments can be made, systems can change on the fly, but after two games this much is clear: Dallas is the more talented team, they are the smarter team, and at the risk of criticizing the legendary Pat Riley, they are the better coached team. Teams with those attributes are usually the ones standing in the end.


Posted: 2:39 PM   by Jim
I have been impressed with Johnson's coaching throughout the playoffs. He has turned these players into the kind of players that can do everything. I even saw Stackhouse playing defense!

The fact that he has his team running as much as they can keeps Shaq from getting back on defense and creating problems for the little guys who drive. All during the Detroit/Miami series I kept asking my kid "Why isn't Detroit running?" Flip did a poor job up there this year.

Let's hope we can get an owner like Cuban up here to take over the Cubs/Bears/Blackhawks. Reinsdorf can't own them all!
Posted: 4:16 PM   by Anonymous
Sure, Coach Riley has done it all, but lets face it, so far Avery Johnson is eating his lunch. The Mav's defense on Shaq has been more effective than anything he has faced. However, I think Shaq's teammates have to shoulder some blame. He has made some nice passes out of double teams that should have been converted. It doesn't take blowing many of those for momentum to swing and frustration to set in... Not that anyone else has, but for the heat to make this a series, they need to make Dirk miss a shot now and then. I'm pulling for the heat because I'd love to see Mourning, Payton, Wade have rings. But even though he can't shoot FT's for Shaq, Riley has to pull his weight by countering Johnson's brilliance so far.
Posted: 5:16 PM   by PattyCakes
Shaq is just bein' Shaq, as all of us in Laker Country know. When things don't go his way, he becomes "The Big Pouter". Miami will see what we fans in LA had to go thru the years he was here. It's all about Shaq, always has been, always will be. He's not the same player he was in LA (too much food, too little training) and Wade ain't no Bryant! In LA, when Shaq was being pinned down or having an off game, #8 took over and pulled it out for us. Like I said, Wade ain't no Bryant.

Come on Dallas, make it quick and painless. Dirk will be Finals MVP and Cuban will throw a party for the whole city. Sounds good to me!
Posted: 5:40 PM   by Anonymous
Shaq is over the hill...the Lakers knew it and now the rest of the NBA knows it. Tell me how a 7'2" center that weighs 350 pounds not get double digit rebounds. I'll tell you..he is lazy and when he doesn't get the ball (according to him) he gives up on the game. Dallas and the entire Western Conference is better than the Eastern conference. Detroit and Miami's records were inflated because they got to play Toronto, Atlanta, New York Knicks and several other weak Eastern teams 3 to 4 times each. Pat Riley (Brutus) should be ashamed of what he did to Stan Van Gundy...and now karma is paying him back.
Posted: 6:03 PM   by Anonymous
Unfortunately the NBA title was decided in the second round when the Mavs bested the Spurs in an infinitely more competitive series than any an Eastern Conference team could muster. (Great scheduling, Association Suits.) Now we're back to the Western dominance. The Heat are simply not in the same class with the Mavs, Spurs and Suns (even with Amare missing). On the bright side, everyone owes Miami (and Cleveland) a debt of gratitude for barring one of the most overrated clubs in league history from the big stage -- at least we don't have to entertain any more blather about the Pistons being the "best team of all time" -- right.
Posted: 6:07 PM   by Anonymous
If Miami does not turn this series around (or at least make it a series)Pat Riley will have been exposed. A "master motivator," the Heat don't need motivation, they need a strategy.
Posted: 7:34 PM   by Anonymous
No disrespect to the Mavs and Johnson (who's showing why he's coach of the year), but Shaq needs to just attack. He's waiting for a double team to arrive and then passes the ball. He's afraid to attack once the double team arrives becaus he'll get fouled and it'll be an empty possesion.

So, as soon as Shaq catches the ball he needs to attack. Dallas won't even be expecting it because they're gotten used to him standing there waiting for the double team. Right now he's just a decoy that draws an extra defender and makes a pass.
Posted: 9:26 PM   by Anonymous
Shaq is washed up...just like a powerful running back, who has no skill other than bulldozer people and run through them. He was awesome a few years back, when he jumped all over Duncan, Robinson and Mutumbo. I remember wondering how could anyone even touch this guy. In 5 years, it's a 180 degree opposite. Nothing wrong with that...just a law of nature. He was an awesome force of nature, and his time is up. He will still put up some fight, but for all practical purposes, Miami is done for.
Posted: 10:30 PM   by Anonymous
True true. Although Dallas is far from being the Pistons on defense, it's on the right track thanks to Avery.

C'mon Shaq, be creative. If your power moves or drop steps aren't what they used to be, how about a jump or a sky hook?

Think about it: what can a double, triple team accomplish when you're holding the ball high above your head for a shot?
Posted: 10:32 PM   by Anonymous
Posted: 11:21 PM   by Anonymous
I say Dallas in six games. Give credit to Walker and company for reducing that lead down to 12 points. Miami seems to be a better team without Shaq clogging the lane for his own team.

Shaq's too egotistical to have tried developing something new for himself, like improving his free throws. He thinks too highly of his size and speed.

Now, he's learning the hardway. 5 points for Miami's highest paid player! When Dallas wins, it will have proved to everyone's eyes that LA made the right decision.

Bryant's been projected too much as the evil one, with Shaq as the good one....I guess Shaq's just getting karma due to him.
Shaq would ba back to show those who started to count him out, very soon starting less than 24 hours from this moment. Let's better be distance away from a monster been humiliated.

I saw Shaq been at his low points at consecutive games, but cannot recall three in a row. Be watch out.
Posted: 12:34 AM   by Anonymous
You have to be impressed with what Avery Johnson has done with the Mavericks. It was hard to respect the team in past years because they didn't think they needed to play defense to win. Now we are primarily hearing about the defensive looks they confusing the Heat with.
This is a prime example of a coach not needing to have the best individual player on the court. He's showed his players how to win with the best approach to the game. It would be foolish to walk up the court with the basketball (Detroit Pistons) and play to Miami's strength. Avery has sought out Miami's weaknesses and exploited them so far.
Hopefully the Heat will make it interesting by making some changes of thier own.
Posted: 12:53 AM   by Anonymous
Too much credit has been given to Shaq and very little to Phil Jackson. Shaq was(is) a major threat only when Phil was his coach. Phil understood his limitations and used his strengths well. I guess Riley is not Jackson, and though he has 4 rings, these are just about 20yrs old. When everybody else scores, the pressure on the big guy will be lesser.
Avery Johnson has done a great job, which I doubt anybody else could have achieved in such a short span....signs that indicate a great future coach.
Posted: 1:13 AM   by Anonymous
Pattycakes, this discussion is not about Bryant and should not involve #8. The issue is here is Shaq and Reily. If they can step up their game, the heat are more than talented enough to come back and give the Mavs some trouble. But Reily has got to think of another way to play the fast pace Mavericks. Shaq and his powerful game are not enough to beat Johnson and the Mavs. If the heat can find a new way to involve the diesel in their game plan, than they are plenty capable of a comeback.
Posted: 2:42 AM   by Anonymous
Avery's defense on Shaq has been the difference maker in this series, it's really up to Coach Riley and Shaq himself to counter Dallas' defensive strategies.

I can't believe Kobe fans are again, making this thing about Kobe. Kobe ain't in the play-offs no more. He quit in the 2nd half of their game 7 with Phoenix, the NBA play-offs has gone on without him.
Posted: 3:08 AM   by Anonymous
Shaq this and Shaq that.. I'm tired of hearing about it. Shaq is the most selfish person in the universe and anyone that has listened to his comments since the Orlando days knows this. How he used to talk smack about Ewing, David Robinson, Alonzo Mourning. Nevermind the racial remarks on Yao Ming and the immature response to the Sacramento "Queens". He used to pout all the time when Kobe was getting his props. And he made everyone think that he was a good guy. What a shame! I certainly hope this time he doesn't put the blame on Riley. God forbid if we have to hear about another spat with a teammate over the summer.
Posted: 3:26 AM   by Anonymous
shaq is not washed up, it's just that he's never been anything more than a freak of nature. now that he can't rely on his freakish stature, he can't do anything. simple as that. i mean, he can't even make his free throws!
Posted: 6:38 AM   by eca1969
Let me say it one more time in case you missed it. "A 35 year old diesel can't even get out of its own way!"
Posted: 6:43 AM   by Anonymous
dont count miami out yet. remember that all those losses were from dallas home court, plus the fact miami manage to trim the lead but rather fall short.
Posted: 7:13 AM   by SKC Ogbonnia
I had always thought Kobe was the man in LA. How can the super star be on bench when the game is on the line? I like Shaq but the way he manouvered the press against Kobe is nothing to talk home about. He is no Akeem Olajuwon or...and believe it, this is a 4-0 or 4-series (Dallas). Pat Riley: Stan will be on stands tonight~
Posted: 10:38 AM   by Rudolph D.
It isn't CURSE OF THE LAKERS but rather Karma. Shaq has always needed someone to get him a championship just as much the other person needed him. He couldn't get it done with Penny and can't get it done with Wade because neither can play defense and score like Kobe. I think they are both immature and cry babies but i agree with Buss that paying someone 20 - 30 million to eat all the time is not worth it. Shaq is one of the most disrespectful persons i have ever heard. Riley is the best coach he has ever heard is just a blind slap to Phil. Does he not remember that he would have NO rings if it wasn't for Phil. I would love if Miami lost in 4. I am surprised he isn't saying give me the ball. That is always his answer even though he can't do anything but slam dunk. Even a 5 year old can bank.
Posted: 11:00 AM   by Anonymous
I have always liked Shaquille personally, have enjoyed his power and strength. However his lack of anything outside a dunk and decent baby-hook combined with his awful FT shooting leave Miami to play only one way. If it isn't slow and pounding it inside everytime, they are in trouble.

I think Dallas deserves a ton of credit. They dispatched the 400lb Gorilla, San Antonio, and have been dominant since. They play together, smile, hustle, listen to the coach and don't whine and cry. Much like a college team, really. The Mavs are a breath of fresh air, and the NBA will look good with a new champion, a new coach, and a new bona-fide star in Nowitzki.
Posted: 2:38 PM   by Anonymous
Simple terms: The west teams are just better than the east teams.
Posted: 3:31 PM   by Anonymous
I honestly believe game 7 will determine who takes the title. I also believe Miami will take the next two to three games. As for Shaq being at the end of his career, well as always, time will tell. Don't count Miami out just yet. I remembered Shaq making statements/promises before millions of people of what he is going to do. He, not (we)(team) will bring the NBA title to Miami. My coach always told me there is no I in team. Maybe, Shaq know something I/we don't. Give the big man a sporting chance to prove to himself and to the fans of Miami that his word is bond.
Posted: 4:45 PM   by Anonymous
No doubt with the Mavericks we are seeing "team" work as it's meant to be including their owner, coach(s), starting line-up and bench support. It's unfortunate that the Heat feeds off of Shaq and when he's "off", so goes all others. You could see this very clear with the Spurs and the Suns games. My gripe is with David Stern's front office who chooses to levy fines on Shaq and the Heat due to Shaq's refusal to meet with the press following a grizzly defeat. Thankfully we haven't had to hit the mute button whenever Jim Gray pops up with less than intellegent questions or listen to Bill Walton's analysis of Shaq's failure at the free throw line. Shoving a mic in someone's face after one of his most dismal performances is selfish and lacks professional manners in my book and I don't give a tinker's damn what the media thinks about it. Greed seems to be the bottom line these days.
Posted: 5:18 PM   by Anonymous
"So, as soon as Shaq catches the ball he needs to attack. Dallas won't even be expecting it because they're gotten used to him standing there waiting for the double team. Right now he's just a decoy that draws an extra defender and makes a pass."

Watch more closely and you'll see that Dallas is virtually double-teaming Shaq before he even gets the ball, on occasion. We did see Shaq try to force the issue in Game 2 and he missed badly. I suspect Shaq will get a lot more calls in Miami and a Miami win tonight won't surprise me. I expect Miami to be up big at half. I also expect Dallas to make a 2nd half comeback and possibly win (Dallas was down by 18 in a "must win" game for Phoenix in #6 of the West Conf Finals and Dallas came back and won. I think we might see Miami get ahead and slack off a bit allowing Dallas to come back. Whatever happens tonight, I see Dallas winning in 5 or maybe 6. Just too deep and too good for Miami. If you created a team using Miami and Dallas players only Shaq and Wade would start and the first couple off the bench would be Mavericks too. Dirk, Josh Howard, Jason Terry, Jerry Stackhouse, Devin Harris. I'd take any of them before I'd take a third Heat player.
Posted: 6:53 PM   by Anonymous
I agree, pattycakes. Anyone in L.A. has been through this so many times with Shaq. If he could have buried the hatchet with Kobe, maybe they would still be competing for championships. Now all we get from Shaq is his not-so-cute quotes, that is when he is in the mood. When he refused to come to the media press conference after what was his worst playoff performance ever, he showed that he is just a sore loser. When things don't go his way, he sits at his locker and sulks. I have been so impressed with the Mavs and their class, team play, enthusiasm and intensity. I so hope this will be over soon and we have a real champion crowned the winner. Go Mavs!
Posted: 8:36 PM   by Anonymous
At home the Heat will win the next two games. Shaq is still one of the premier players in the NBA. Home court advantage is everything in the NBA. Probably after the Heat win the next two games people wwith short memory will say great Riley, Shaq and Wade are. Nevertheless, I pick the Mavs in 7.
Posted: 8:41 PM   by Anonymous
I wonder why they ran the playoffs backwards this year. First, in a terrific NBA finals series between the two best teams, Dallas barely beat the Spurs in a series of tense, tight games. Then, in the semifinals, they outlasted a good but not great Phoenix team. Now, in the quarterfinals, Dallas faces a mid-level playoff team and, predictably, will coast in 4 or 5 games.

Shouldn't the quarterfinals and semifinals come before the finals?
Posted: 9:31 PM   by Anonymous
I don't know where to put this, but am I the only one watching the playoffs who is completely irritated by the Ben Wallace T-Mobile commercial? The fans are chanting his name as he is introduced multiple times... on the Miami Heat court. Is there something I don't know about Heat fans' love of the Pistons, or is this totally wrong?
Posted: 11:20 PM   by A Sistah in Sorrycuse, NY
Ok, game 3 having been played.. this is a late point.. but one that had been on my mind since the last 2 minutes of the second quarter of game 2. And I am just getting an opp. to write here. I am one of these (seemingly rare fans) of sports who believe that you go with what is good.. even if it is at the risk of hurting the ego of your "star." My estimation is that as "dominant" of a player as Shaq is.. Alonzo Mourning simply plays with more passion a greater sense of urgency.. and simply.. with more agility! In the two minutes or so he played before half time of game two, he did more than Shaq had done in nearly two quarters. He scored, he blocked a shot, and was instrumental in a steal.. and he brought some rejuvenation. I sat there and thought, "I bet he doesnt get any quality playing time for the rest of the game." And of course..... but notice that when he WAS put back in the game, with the Mavs leading by 24 points (I think).. once again..he helped to refuel the gas tanks of a team that was simply out hussled. I think folks forget that Alonzo could easily start for several teams in the NBA and were Shaq not in the Eastern Conference, Zo could even represent the East as an All Star. I think he can really bring some guts and passion .. and sense of urgency to a sometime lathargic Miami team. I smiply am not one who says stick with the star as a matter of general principal.. cuz.. I still believe the Frank Riech (sp) got Buffalo to the superbowl so he should have started the superbowl.. We know how THAT ended..just like I think the Knicks would have had a better chance of beating Houston in the NBA finals had Patrick Ewing had not suddenly been reinstated into the starting lineup after a very passionate team (without him) had gotten them there. We know how THAT ended! Dallas is the deeper and more talented team, but I think that Miami can give them a good run for their money.. even win this series.. if it uses all of its weapons... and passion and desperation is certainly a weapon in the former all star Mourning.
Posted: 4:25 PM   by Anonymous
Stop press or should I say start the press. After watching game three, the Mavs will have no problem with winning the title. Dallas is the better team; they don't depend on one or two guys to win for them. Can't say that with the Heat, it's either Wade or Shaq and we already know what the outcome is if one of them are having a bad game. I predict the Mavs will win the title in Dallas and Avery will sit on the throne next to the other great coaches. M. Cuban will pass out expensive cuban cigars to everybody. As for Miami, next season isn’t far away.
Posted: 6:31 PM   by Anonymous
yup, historically, heat fans have always loved the pistons
Posted: 1:27 AM   by Anonymous
After game four, it seems to be that it's time for Dallas to have a wake-up call. Yes, Shaq is Shaq and Wade is not Kobe but basketball is not a two man game, it is a team effort and that is what Coach Pat's motivation for the rest of Miami's team.