Shaq's Block Party No Fun For 76ers

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Todd MacCulloch, a 7-foot reserve center, creaked out of the 76er locker room and made his way to the team bus.

Next stop, a king-sized Shaquille O'Neal hangover.

"I definitely feel him the morning after," said MacCulloch, who played 16 minutes in the 98-89 Laker victory.

"I still felt him from the first game, and I only played two or three minutes. It's a good thing I don't play a whole season against him. I don't think my body would be able to take it."

If there was a player who could have slowed O'Neal on Friday, he wasn't on Philadelphia's roster. He approached a quadruple double with 28 points, 20 rebounds, nine assists and a finals-record eight blocks.

Only four times in the NBA Finals have players recorded quadruple doubles, the last by David Robinson in 1994.

O'Neal's performance was a defensive tour de force, just what the Lakers needed in a game that was more critical than some of them wanted to admit.

"I think it was a must-win," O'Neal said. "Now, we just need to go to their place and get one or two games. I think we can do that. We play well on the road. If we do what we're supposed to do, then we'll be fine."

The 76ers have the unenviable task of trying to figure out what to do about their massive headache in the middle, the one wearing the No. 34 jersey.

"As great as Kobe [Bryant] is, when you have a player in the middle that everyone has to pay attention to, it opens things up for everybody," Philadelphia Coach Larry Brown said.

The way Brown saw it, the biggest play of the game was an act of generosity by O'Neal. With 2:09 to play and the Lakers clinging to an 89-86 lead, the big man took a pass in the low post, was sandwiched by a double team, then kicked the ball out to Derek Fisher for a 25-foot bomb. Swish, and the lead doubled to six.

"If I was smart," Brown said, "maybe I would have told our guys to foul when he got it. But I don't believe in that, you know."

Laker Coach Phil Jackson said O'Neal was just doing what he did all night--find an open teammate, usually one cutting through a lane.

"We knew if they were going to play that kind of pressure up against the bodies, trying to body the ball, body the passer, we're going to have cutters available," Jackson said.

O'Neal's foul shooting was typically poor (4 for 10), but his effort on both ends of the court made the difference. His eight blocks matched the single-game mark set by Bill Walton (1977), Hakeem Olajuwon (1986) and Patrick Ewing (1994).

"Not only did he block the ball, but a lot of times they kept it inbounds and that led to their fastbreak," MacCulloch said. "So instead of knocking it out of bounds and having us get the ball back, he was able to somehow keep the ball inbounds. That's a much better defensive play than swatting it into the third row, which he has the ability to do."

Bryant called O'Neal "the anchor of our defense."

More like the anchor that crashed right through the deck of the good ship Philadelphia.

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