As we await the re-start of the 2019-20 NBA season, lets appreciate the greatness that was Shaquille O’Neal in 2001
Basketball is Back! Well almost back anyway. This pause in the season forced me to go back and watch some old games and one thing stood out, 2001 Finals Shaq! We are coming up on the 20th anniversary of the 2001 NBA Finals and one of the best teams of all time. To be completely honest Allen Iverson is one of my favorite athletes, and his performance in game 1 produced one of the most iconic moments in sports history (Sorry Ty Lue). But while AI was a great story in game 1, Shaq was an absolute monster the entire series and that might be an understatement.
Let’s break down the five games and Shaq’s ridiculous numbers. Coming in to the Finals the Lakers were 11-0 destroying the competition in the West. The Sixers were coming off a game seven win and an Iverson MVP season. They also traded for the DPOY Dikembe Mutombo who was supposed to give Shaq some trouble.
Game 1 Philadelphia 76ers 107, Los Angeles Lakers 101 (OT) Shaq – 44 PTS, 20 REB, 5 ASTS
Game 1 was a back and forth game, the Lakers had a big 4th quarter and the adjustment to bring in Ty Lue to guard AI proved effective (Until OT). Mutombo missed 2 free throws to take the lead and the game eventually went to overtime. The Lakers took an early lead but AI scored 7 straight points including the iconic step-over. The Sixers handed the Lakers their only loss of the playoffs, with Shaq putting up a mere 44, 20, and 5. The Sixers won the game but it was clear nobody had an answer for the Big Fella.
Game 2 Philadelphia 76ers 89, Los Angeles Lakers 98 Shaq- 28 PTS, 20 REB, 9 ASTS, 8 BLKS
Shaq didn’t drop 44 like he did in game 1, but he more than made up for it with close to a quadruple-double. This is a Shaq appreciation article but let’s give some love to baby afro Kobe, who can be underrated because of how dominant Shaq was. This Lakers team was a combination of Shaq at his peak, Kobe figuring out just how great he could be and a team full of solid role players.
Game 3 Philadelphia 76ers 91, Los Angeles Lakers 96 Shaq- 30 PTS 12 REB, 4 BLKS
Shaq, Kobe, and Big shot Bob Horry combined for 77 of the Lakers 96 points with Horry hitting the go-ahead three like the legend that he is. Shaq fouled out in the 4th or his numbers would be even better. After the game, he called out Mutombo for flopping saying “I didn’t think the best defensive player in the game would be flopping like that. It’s a shame that the referees buy into that,” O’Neal said. “I wish he’d stand up and play me like a man instead of flopping and crying every time I back him down“. By game three it was clear Mutombo was too little to provide any resistance.
Game 4 Philadelphia 76ers 86, Los Angeles Lakers 100 Shaq – 34 PTS 14 REB, 5 ASTS
The Lakers started to look like they had all playoffs. Shaq couldn’t be stopped and Kobe was one assist away from a triple-double. If you’ve been watching the YouTube clips you get the theme now, Shaq was too big and too skilled for anybody in the league. His quote after game 4 says it all “I haven’t been stopped since age 5” – The Big Aristotle
Game 5 Philadelphia 76ers 96, Los Angeles Lakers 108 Shaq – 29 PTS 13 REB, 5 BLKS
The Lakers closed it out and finished the playoff 15-1 which was, at the time, the highest winning percentage in NBA history .938 (The 2017 Warriors now hold the record .941, game going 16-1). This win put the Lakers in the conversation for the best team of all time, with the ’86 Celtics, ’96 Bulls, and the aforementioned 2017 Warriors. Those teams obviously have all-time great players, but there’s only one Shaq. In the age of unicorns with Lebron, Giannis, KD and now Zion, the Diesel is one of kind. When you watch his old Lakers games the things that stand out besides his sheer dominance are his grace footwork and passing. He finished the finals averaging an absurd 33 PTS, 16 REB, 5 ASTS 3.5 BLKS.
He can only be described in one word, unstoppable.