Is this the end of Shaquille O'Neal's dominance?
Requiem for a Heavyweight?
By Rob Peterson
DALLAS, June 11 -- He sat on the bench a forlorn figure, his knees close to his chest, his massive arms crossed on those knees. While a man Shaquille O'Neal's size can't help but bring his knees to his chest as he folds himself into a seat on the bench, this time he looked different.
For the first time, Shaq looked ... small.
For the first time in his playoffs and Finals history, he played even smaller.
Never before had Shaq scored so few points in a postseason game. After all, this is Shaq, three-time Finals MVP who has scored 40-plus points in five Finals games and whose 32.6 Finals scoring average heading into this series was third best all-time behind Rick Barry (36.3) and Michael Jordan (33.6).
But, in Game 2, against a constant Mavericks' double-team, Shaq looked helpless. Forced out of his comfort zone and forced to pass to cold-shooting teammates for three quarters, the Daddy no longer resembled the man who once dominated the NBA's ultimate series.
He went 2-for-5 from the field. When he did get to the line, he went 1-for-7. His first free throw proved to be a harbinger of his evening. Wild and hard right on his first attempt to complete a three-point play, Shaq received another chance because of a Mavericks' lane violation. His second attempt ricocheted hard off the back of the rim.
The rest of the night went downhill from there. He spent the last 15 minutes of Game 2 with his posterior parked on the pine. Seeing Shaq sitting for so long surprised his teammates.
"It was crazy, you know, especially when he's not in foul trouble and, you know, you wonder why," Dwyane Wade said. "You know, we've got to find a way. We've got to find a way to get our big to be more dominant.
"With the touches that we give him, we have to find a way to make him more efficient."
Heat coach Pat Riley also acknowledged that the rest of the Heat need to help Shaq become effective.
That being said, it seems clear that the days of Shaquille O'Neal taking over The Finals by force of his will or by force in the post have since passed. And while some believe Shaq could turn it on in Miami, it's tough to deny this stat: Shaq's teams are 1-6 in his last seven Finals games.
Could he regain his form? Were these first two games an aberration? Some wanted to ask him that after Game 2. They gathered, cameras at the ready, microphones extended, pens and pads of paper in hand.
After about 15 minutes in the Heat locker room, the announcement came:
"For those waiting for Mr. O'Neal ... he has departed."
The reporters let out a small groan and looked for anyone else to talk to in the Heat locker room.
Little did they realize that, although they could see him sitting on the bench for the final moments of Game 2, Shaq had already left the building.
Shaq, Heat Fined
For not speaking to reporters, Shaq received a $10,000 fine, while the Heat organization received a $25,000 punishment.
Haslem, Wade Ailing
Udonis Haslem spent most of the second half on the bench next to Shaq with his left shoulder wrapped.
Haslem went down hard when he fouled Jason Terry with 4:31 left in the second quarter. He tried to play after halftime, but exited the game at the 10:03 mark of the third quarter, never to enter the game again. Haslem says he'll be ready for tip off on Tuesday, June 13 at 9 p.m. ET.
"Thereís no doubt Iíll be playing," Haslem said. "I mean, this is the Finals. There is no next round.
"This is it."
While Haslem put on a brave face for reporters, one could see he was still smarting from his fall. Instead of using his left arm to pick up a packet of postgame stats, Haslem reached around his body with his right arm to grab the papers. His left arm lay across his thigh, immoble.
Meanwhile, Wade, who was waiting to take the podium in the interview room, convalesced in the trainer's office, opening and closing his right hand. He appeared before the media with a neoprene splint on his middle and ring fingers of his right hand.
When asked if it was "something," Wade responded.
Moments later, Wade admitted he jammed them during the game.
History Major Undertaking
As we exited the media van at our parking lot, the van driver said: "See you next week."
A few journalists chuckled. One responded: "I don't think so."
Seems that nearly everyone forgets -- and take heart Heat fans -- the 2005 Finals started out 2-0 in favor of the Spurs. The talk turned to a Spurs sweep. The Pistons returned home, won the next two in blowouts before losing a classic overtime Game 5. As you know, the series went seven games.
Haslem thinks such a scenario could present itself again.
"We believe that we can," Haslem said. "They took care of their home floor, now itís our turn to do the same. If we take care of our home floor, then we can possibly come back here 3-2.
True, but then again only 17 teams in postseason history have recovered from an 0-2 hole and only two in Finals history have done so: Bill Russell's final title in 1969 when the Celtics kneecapped the Lakers in seven and in 1977 when the Blazers overpowered the Sixers in six.
Still, the Heat say their collective chins remain high.
"Positive," said James Posey about the Heat's attitude. "They took care of homecourt, now we have a chance to take care of our homecourt.
"The series is far from over. Weíve just got to play it out. Thatís why itís a best of seven series. Weíve just got to put this behind us and focus on winning games at home."
Heat coach Pat Riley has been known to give an impassioned speech in his day. As a matter of fact, he's quite the star on the motivational speech circuit.
After the game, as the media waited for the doors to the Heat locker room to open, one could only imagine what was being said. Oh, if those walls could talk.
While everyone waited for Shaq to not appear, someone asked reserve center Michael Doleac what Riley said to the team after the game.
"Be ready for Game 3," Doleac said.
The answer hung in the air, the questioner waiting for more exposition. Turns out, there was none.
That's all? No fire and brimstone? No paint-peeling performance? No Riles razzle dazzle?
"No," Doleac said, "that was it."
For both the speech and the interview.
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