Philadelphia Coach Larry Brown entered Friday's Game 2 of the NBA Finals worried Lakers center Shaquille O'Neal "might get 80." He meant points. He should have been more concerned about blocked shots.
With O'Neal blocking five shots in the game-turning third period and a Finals-record-tying eight overall, the Lakers held on to even the best-of-seven series with a 98-89 victory at Staples Center. Needing a late three-pointer by point guard Derek Fisher to survive, the Lakers learned two lessons: The ball is never in a better place than in O'Neal's hands, unless he's on the foul line. And these cockroach-like 76ers aren't going away.
"We ended up taking a game that was relatively benign to make it really exciting," Laker Coach Phil Jackson said. Although his 28 points, 20 rebounds and nine assists weren't shabby either, O'Neal's defensive energy turned the momentum and allowed Los Angeles to withstand a furious Philadelphia comeback. "Shaq again was phenomenal," Brown said, "like he always is."
Unable to distance itself from the 76ers since the early stages of Wednesday's 107-101 Game 1 overtime loss, Los Angeles gained needed separation with a 16-6 run to end the third period. The sound of success went thusly: Tyrone Hill shot. Splat! Allen Iverson shot. Splat! Eric Snow shot. Splat! Todd MacCulloch shot. Splat! MacCulloch shot. Splat! What O'Neal couldn't accomplish with his 44 points, 20 rebounds--and no blocks --in Game 1, he achieved with that rat-tat-tat-tat-tat flurry of O'Neal blocks in five minutes 32 seconds in the third quarter.
Said O'Neal: "I was trying to set our defense up."