The Big Diesel was turning 28 years of age prior to his game against their rival team in the Los Angeles Clippers. With everything clicking for both Shaq and the Lakers that season in hunt for a championship, the big man put on a show for the ages and had the Staples Center crowd rocked the entire game.
Coming into the game, Shaq had no intentions to be the driving force that night against their rivals. After coming off of a pretty laid back game against Miami where he scored 17 points on 5-17 shooting from the field, The Diesel was more focused on celebrating his day and even broke his pregame rituals due to him wanting the night off.
“Since I got a party that night, I was gonna let Rick Fox and Kobe and those guys take over” Shaq stated in his interview on Open Court. Let’s not forget that this was Shaq’s dominant season where he was bound to win the MVP Award after the season. He was succeeding in the triangle offense and there was nobody that season that was on his level as far as dominant play. So having a night off on this particular day was no biggie to him.
During the day, Shaq was more focused on preparing for his party than anything else. He spent the entire day shopping for jewelry and other accessories to make sure that his party was a success. Then, with about a couple hours before tip-off, Shaq has to head back home to get ready and drive straight over to Staples Center to get prepared for the game that night.
Shaq admitted that he was tired prior to the game beginning. Going away from his pregame rituals to set up his party, he wasn’t able to take his pregame nap to recharge for the night’s matchup. And going into the game, the big man would have to pay for not going through with his routines.
The Clippers were on fire to start out the game. They were getting open looks and were looking to send a message early to the dominant Lakers. During a timeout, many teammates and coaches would get onto Shaq for not being assertive early in the game. It was obvious he was tired. But he had to do what was needed for the team to get a win. After the timeout, O’Neal went back on the floor and began to spark up the offense to bring energy to the team.
Shaq got his first field goal off a one hand hook on the right side. With him being so big and physical, he knew he would have an advantage against some of the small Clipper players in Pete Chilcutt and Keith Closs. He would continue to make shot after shot to bring the team back in. Everyone in the building saw how focused and engaged he was to dismantle the Clippers under the basket. So what did the Lakers do? They continues to dump the ball in the middle and watched their big man go to work.
It was a slow start for this Laker team, but they slowly were crawling themselves back into the game. O’Neal continued to dominate the paint. And also other guys in Kobe Bryant, Glen Rice, and others began to become engaged into the offense. Everyone’s contributions along with Shaq’s dominance brought the Lakers the lead before the half. The Purple and Gold were held with a 56-55 lead headed into the locker room.
Going into the 2nd half, Diesel continued to demand the ball in his hands so the team could close the game out. What also motivated him to dominate more was NBA legend Kareem Abdul-Jabbar not acknowledging his dominant performance. The NBA legend was working for the Clippers at the time and was giving advice to his big men on how to stop Shaq under the basket. Shaq noticed what was going on and it even began to fuel him more to dominate the smaller Clippers.
Diesel just continued to dominate. Making shot after shot, the Clippers would end up having no answer to stop him at that point. Head Coach Phil Jackson decided to stop running plays due to his star player having a hot night scoring and it was working out just fine. O’Neal scored 16 points in the 3rd Quarter to put him up to 42 for the game while the Lakers ended the Quarter with a 92-80 lead headed to the 4th.
The 4th Quarter went pretty much the same way as the past 3 quarters did. The crowd began to be electric and once Shaq got to 50 points everyone went crazy. It became one of the most dominant performances ever and the game wasn’t even over yet.
At this point, the Lakers were just having fun with the Clippers on the offensive end. They were up 16 points midway through the quarter and just raced up the floor and dumped it down to Shaq to add to his stat sheet. It was almost as if the Clippers didn’t want to play defense anymore. Guess one can say that the players were in awe of what was happening from the superstar big man at that particular moment.
Shaq would surpass his then career high of 53 points midway in the 4th. His dominance continued and the crowd wanted him to continue to score again and again.
Then, on a play that would make history, Kobe penetrates to the rim and once again finds Shaq for an easy dunk to put him at 61 points for the game. Afterwards, the Lakers would force a turnover and Shaq threw an alley-oop pass to Kobe to cap off the perfect night for the MVP candidate.
With about 5 minutes remaining in regulation, Phil Jackson would take Shaq out of the game as garbage time approached. He received a standing ovation from the crowd as what would go on to be the perfect birthday gift of any player.
Shaq finished the game off with a career high 61 points and 23 rebounds. He shot 24-35 from the field and shot 13-22 from the free throw line. The Lakers would go on to win 123-103 to earn their 16th straight win.
Shaq would go on and party after the game which was well deserved. It was most definitely a birthday to remember as he capped the night off with a dominant performance and most importantly getting the win.
After the season, Shaq went on to become MVP and lead this Lakers team to their 1st championship in 12 years defeating the Indiana Pacers in 6 games. That season, everything went right for Shaq and the Lakers. Both he and Kobe figured things out and went to work en route of their first championship together. It’s safe to say that these two worked perfectly well together and would go down as one of the best duo’s in NBA History.
With all of the memorable performances Shaq put on over the course of his career, this one was more likely the best. It’s not everyday a big man can go for 60 and 20 on a “tired” night. But the big man made it look easy. To this day, Shaq still remembers everything that went on this entire day. It was a historic night to say the least and he wouldn’t change any of it for the world.