O’Neal Powers Heat Past Hawks
Miami 111, Atlanta 92
MIAMI, Dec. 20 (Ticker) -- Shaquille O'Neal's strong finishes ended a rare hot stretch for the Atlanta Hawks.
O'Neal posted a perfect first half and finished with 28 points on 13-of-15 shooting as the Miami Heat won Pat Riley's first home game since returning as coach with a 111-92 victory over the Hawks.
"(Riley) told me to be ready and be active," O'Neal said. "We knew what they (Atlanta) had been doing, so there was no room for a letdown."
The 7-1 superstar center went 8-of-8 from the floor with six dunks in the first half, scoring 17 points and helping the Heat to a 56-35 halftime lead.
"I've been back five or six games now, and I'm just trying to get back in the flow," O'Neal said. "I knew the ball would be coming to me, so I just had to take care of business."
Riley was more than just a little impressed with O'Neal's performance.
"I thought Shaq was as good tonight as he's been all season," Riley said. "He picked their defense apart and took the heart right out of them."
Miami held Atlanta to nine first-quarter points on 4-of-21 shooting and shot 54 percent (19-of-35) before the break.
"We tried to play hard, but it was not our night," said Hawks rookie Marvin Williams, who scored 17 of his season-high 26 points in the fourth quarter. "It's not just about Shaquille. He is a great player, a very dominant player, but they are just a good all-around team."
Miami began the second half with a 25-8 surge capped by O'Neal's three-point play for an 81-43 advantage with 5:08 left in the third quarter. It cruised to its fifth win in six games.
"They could double- or triple-team me if they wanted and I would just dish it off to one of the other guys," O'Neal said. "I want to be the consummate team player, so putting a lot of guys on me would not have been successful."
Riley hopes the team now feels a sense of urgency to get even better.
"I hope tonight is the start of an attitude and to get it done like this at home and then go out on the road and establish something there," Riley said.
Despite the absence of center Alonzo Mourning due to an upper respiratory infection, the Heat dominated scoring in the paint, 56-38, helping Riley improve to 4-1 since replacing Stan Van Gundy eight days ago.
"I'm flattered, but I don't get caught up in it," Riley said. "I'm excited for the players when we do well; it's not about me."
Heat leading scorer Dwyane Wade also sat out the entire fourth quarter and scored 14 points. Gary Payton had 15 points and eight assists and Antoine Walker added 13 points off the bench.
"Tonight we stuck to our game plan and got a big W," Wade said. "We took them seriously and that's the way we have to play all the time."
Joe Johnson scored 13 points and Al Harrington chipped in 12 for Atlanta, which has dropped 12 of 14 in the series.
"Shaquille was just too much for us," Johnson said. "The key to beating them is to control Shaquille. ... We didn't do a good job with that game plan."