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Shaquille O'Neal's Top Playoff Moments
Arguably the most dominant player in NBA history, few could singlehandedly control a game like Shaquille O’Neal did in his prime with the Lakers. Though he put together plenty of otherworldly regular-season performances, the L.A. legend left his legacy by leading the purple and gold in the playoffs.
But before we count down O’Neal’s top postseason displays as a Laker, here is an honorable mention from Game 7 of the 2000 Western Conference Finals. Although O’Neal finished with an uncharacteristic 18 points and nine rebounds, he and Kobe Bryant connected with 40 seconds left for one of the most iconic plays in Lakers history.
Bryant shook Scottie Pippen and then hit O’Neal with a lob that the Diesel threw down to send STAPLES Center into a frenzy. The play remains the lasting memory of the 15-point fourth-quarter comeback that sent L.A. back to the NBA Finals for the first time in nine years.
HM) A Duel for the Ages (2001 NBA Finals — Game 1)
OK, one more honorable mention for a game that O'Neal dominated but didn't win. L.A. entered the 2001 NBA Finals having steamrolled the Western Conference with a perfect 11-0 playoff record at that point. O’Neal was the engine behind this, and he wasted no time introducing himself to the challenging Philadelphia 76ers. The Big Fella handled Defensive Player of the Year Dikembe Mutombo with a 44-point, 20-rebound onslaught that made him the first player not named Michael Jordan to score that high in a Finals game since Wilt Chamberlain in 1970. Unfortunately for the Lakers, O’Neal wasn’t even this game’s highest scorer, as Allen Iverson dropped 48 points to hand L.A. its only loss on its way to the 2001 title.
9) Over Yao, For the Win (2004 Western Conference First Round — Game 1)
For a superteam that boasted O'Neal, Bryant, Gary Payton and Karl Malone, the Lakers sure got off to a rough start, as seventh-seeded Houston led the Lakers by one in the expiring moments of the first game of the 2004 playoffs. Bryant tried to take the lead, but his attempt over two defenders missed the entire rim. Fortunately for L.A., O'Neal was there to grab the airball — one of his eight offensive rebounds — and hammer down a go-ahead dunk over 7-foot-6 Yao Ming. Shaq had been scoreless in the second half until the point of his and-1 throwdown, which fouled out Yao and gave the Lakers the 72-71 edge with 17.4 seconds to go. Though he missed the ensuing free throw, he stepped up on the final play, deterring Steve Francis' path to the rim, forcing the All-Star to pass to Jim Jackson, who missed the game-winning 3-pointer.
O'Neal shot just 4-of-14 on free throws that night, but he was undoubtedly the hero. While his fellow future Hall of Famers — Bryant, Payton and Malone — went just 11-of-43 from the field, O'Neal led all players both on the scoreboard and the glass, as he racked up 20 points and 17 rebounds.
9) Grudge Match (2004 Western Conference Semifinals — Game 3)
Just one year earlier, San Antonio had eliminated the Lakers on their home floor in the Western Conference Semifinals, putting an end to the quest for four consecutive championships. The Spurs looked like they were on track to knock L.A. out again, as they held a 2-0 series lead over the purple and gold before O’Neal changed the Lakers’ fortunes with a mammoth performance that led to a 24-point rout. He went off for 28 points and 15 rebounds, while San Antonio was unable to prevent him from dominating the paint and going 11-of-13 from the field. O’Neal also hammered the Spurs defensively, becoming the first player since Patrick Ewing in 1994 to swat eight shots in a playoff game.
8) The First Royal Encounter (2000 Western Conference First Round — Game 1)
In his first playoff game against the team he would go head-to-head with in the playoffs for three straight seasons, O’Neal made sure to leave a lasting impression. Sacramento was unprepared for O’Neal’s dominant inside presence, as he chewed up its bigs for a playoff career-high 46 points on 21-of-33 shooting. For good measure, he also tallied 17 rebounds and five blocks to head a 10-point Laker win.
7) Prepping the Brooms (2002 NBA Finals — Game 2)
Not even Aaron Williams’ shall-we-say “unique” defensive approach could stop O’Neal from getting what he wanted against New Jersey. The eventual Finals MVP, O’Neal strung together his best game of the series, hitting 14 of his 23 shots, plus 12 of his 14 free throws, to rack up 40 points. He also threw in 12 rebounds and eight assists, as the Lakers rolled closer to an eventual sweep.
6) Staying Alive (2002 Western Conference Finals — Game 6)
Facing elimination against the despised Kings, O’Neal and Bryant put on one of the greatest two-man performances in playoff history, combining for 72 points, while the remaining eight Lakers scored 34. For his part, O’Neal went 14-of-25 from the field and 13-of-17 at the line to finish with 41 points, while also pulling down 17 rebounds in a 106-102 Game 7-forcing victory.
5) Game One (1997 Western Conference First Round — Game 1)
In his first-ever playoff game for the Lakers, O’Neal smashed through his ceiling of expectations at the expense of Portland, which watched him pile up a postseason career-high 46 points — which were the most by a Laker since Jerry West in the 1965 Western Division Finals. The Diesel cashed in from the field (17-of-27) and free throw line (12-of-18), while also collecting 11 rebounds, as L.A. cruised to an 18-point win.
4) Capturing Title No. 1 (2000 NBA Finals — Game 6)
Few players have ever controlled a series like O’Neal did against Indiana in 2000 — and even fewer have done so in the NBA Finals. Seeking to avoid a Game 7 against the Eastern Conference’s top team, O’Neal punished the Pacers for 41 points, 12 rebounds and four blocks. Despite shooting just 3-of-12 at the line, O’Neal went 19-of-32 from the field, as L.A. took home its first championship in 12 years.
3) Conquering the Kings (2002 Western Conference Finals — Game 7)
In basketball, there is no situation more dire than Game 7. With an NBA Finals berth on the line against the dreaded Kings, the Lakers needed all they could get out of O’Neal to push past Sacramento in overtime. O’Neal finished with 35 points — including six of L.A.’s 12 in overtime — by going 12-of-25 from the field and 11-of-15 at the charity stripe. The Big Aristotle also provided a massive presence down low, tallying 13 rebounds and four blocks to lead the purple and gold to victory in one of the NBA’s greatest series ever.
2) Setting the Pace (2000 NBA Finals — Game 2)
With this game, O’Neal and the Lakers sent a message to Indiana that the “Hack-a-Shaq” strategy wouldn’t work. O’Neal shot 39 free throws in Game 2 of the Finals, making just 18 — but he decimated the Pacers with interior scoring and rebounds. He went 11-of-18 on field goal attempts for 40 points and racked up 24 boards — the latter of which is the most by any player in the NBA Finals since at least 1964.
1) The Near-Quadruple Double (2001 NBA Finals — Game 2)
Having just lost Game 1 of the Finals after sweeping through the postseason’s first three rounds, there was some anxiety heading into the Lakers’ second matchup with Philadelphia. O’Neal dispelled any jitters by piecing together one of the top all-around games in league history. He piled up 28 points on an efficient 12-of-19 from the field, while also hauling in 20 rebounds, including eight offensive boards. The Big Fella came within reach of a quadruple-double, as he dished out nine assists and sent back eight shots by the Sixers.