LOS ANGELES, Feb. 15
-- When Shaquille O'Neal
rumbles coast-to-coast, there aren't many volunteers willing to step up and take a charge.
"You can only be so demanding as a coach," allowed Eastern Conference coach Rick Carlisle.
Shaquille O'Neal finished with 24 points and 11 rebounds in the West's victory.
Noah Graham/NBAE/Getty Images
Thus, when O'Neal came up with a steal during the decisive fourth quarter of Sunday's NBA All-Star Game and began to dribble his way through traffic, he soon found 75 feet of open path to the basket as East stars rushed to dodge the 340-pound runaway behemoth. To the delight of his home audience at Staples Center, Shaq finished his solo fast break with a tectonic jam on the opposite end.
"I crossed T-Mac up at half and it was a big hole and I just took it," said O'Neal. "Sometimes they stand there and try to take the charge but there wasn't really that much defense being played today. So I just went in and took it and took 2.9 steps and just threw it down."
The sequence was just one aspect of a dominating MVP performance from O'Neal, who led the West to a tightly contested 136-132 victory and finished the night with 24 points, 11 boards and two blocks in just 24 minutes off the bench. The big man also shot 12-of-19, with nine of his field goals coming on dunks.
With both teams shooting better than 50 percent and six lead changes in the fourth quarter, the game ultimately struck a balance between freewheeling entertainment and tense competition. Allen Iverson and Jason Kidd combined for 21 assists, throwing up an array of alley-oops for Vince Carter, Tracy McGrady and Kenyon Martin. McGrady repeated a move he unveiled last year in Atlanta, lobbing a pass to himself off the backboard for a dunk in heavy traffic.
At the same time, skilled post players like Tim Duncan, Kevin Garnett, Jermaine O'Neal and Jamaal Magloire went to work in the paint, knocking down short hooks and baseline fadeaways. Duncan hit the game's most crucial shot, banking it home from the left block to put the West up 133-132 with 26.1 seconds left. It turned out he was the third option on the play.
"Shaq was the first [option]," said Duncan, who posted 14 points and 13 boards, "Ray was the second one and I was kind of the third one. It kind of worked out that way."
Magloire, who had been one of the more controversial All-Star selections, topped the East with 19 points on 9-of-16 shooting and added eight rebounds.
"Every year, there's going to be media or critics that have their opinion as far as who should be playing in the game and who shouldn't," he said afterward. "I believe in myself. My teammates believe in me. I felt in my heart that I am an All-Star. This won't be last time I will be an All-Star."
Playing a game-high 36 minutes, O'Neal's Laker teammate Kobe Bryant was the only other player to reach the 20-point mark, also contributing four rebounds, four assists and a game-high five steals.
"Kobe -- his competitiveness from the beginning of the game was really unbelievable," commented Western Conference coach Flip Saunders. "At the end I told him twice in timeouts, 'OK, if they score, we'll get a timeout,' and Kobe said they are not going to score."
In the end, though, even the East -- on the losing end for the third straight year -- could call the game a success.
"I thought it was a great game," said Carlisle. "I thought it was an entertaining game and I thought it was a very competitive game and I thought that was very important."