Shaq to Ben: Show me your 'D'
O'Neal's quick start fuels Heat rout of Pistons
June 3, 2005
BY HELENE ST. JAMES
FREE PRESS SPORTS WRITER
MIAMI -- The Pistons threw everyone they could at Shaquille O'Neal, but on a night like this, nothing short of David and a slingshot could have felled the Heat's Goliath.
O'Neal swaggered into Game 5 and stomped on whichever Piston tried to guard him in the paint, and because he did so, every teammate benefited, and every Piston suffered. Two nights after his foul trouble derailed the Heat's hopes in Game 4, O'Neal's furious start -- he was 7-for-10 from the field with 15 points in the first half, all while playing on a bruised right thigh that's hobbled him since the start of the playoffs -- got Miami an 88-76 victory and a 3-2 series lead in the Eastern Conference finals.
UDONIS UP After contributing little in the first three games of the series, Heat forward Udonis Haslem has made a significant impact in the past two:
FG FT REB PTS First 3 6-17 0-0 16 12 Past 2 10-17 8-9 22 28 Thursday 6-8 2-3 13 14
After the game, O'Neal challenged the Pistons, especially Ben Wallace, to contain him.
"My thing is, if you're the Defensive Player of the Year, show me," O'Neal said. "Show me. That's my thing.
"They publicly said they're not going to double me, and they don't double me, so I'm just going to take the high-percentage shots. I just wish people would stand there and take it, instead of acting. Lot of acting going on."
O'Neal finished with 20 points on 9-for-15 shooting, and with five rebounds.
"I thought we did a good job on him after the first six, seven minutes of the game, but ... he's been huge," Detroit coach Larry Brown said. "He's been fantastic the whole series."
O'Neal's performance over 33 minutes allowed the Heat to play down the stretch without star guard Dwyane Wade, who suffered a strained rib muscle in the third quarter and left the game for good at 9:42 of the fourth quarter.
Early in the third quarter, O'Neal demonstrated what makes him so dangerous. Wade had the ball and was off balance and falling out of bounds, so he threw the ball into O'Neal's hands and O'Neal sprang up, even as he was draped by Detroit defenders, and stuffed the ball. Later he caught a running pass from Damon Jones and no human power could have stopped him from making the alley-oop dunk.
With O'Neal back in form, everything looked better. There was the guy known to everyone as "Big Fella" starting the game with a lay-up, and half a minute later, a dunk, and then another, followed by an eight-foot jumper. His dominance down low freed up teammates like Jones, who scored 15 points, and Udonis Haslem, who scored 14, and Rasual Butler, who scored 12.
O'Neal picked up a foul at 8:36, his second at 3:23 and went back to the bench for a breather. He returned just more than two minutes into the second quarter and continued to abuse the Pistons in the paint, scoring on a dunk and two of his trademark hook shots. His furious output allowed him to go back to the bench to rest, to gather strength, to let his teammates finish what he started.
"He got us off to a great start and that was key," Heat coach Stan Van Gundy said. "He was a big, big impact on the game."
Contact HELENE ST. JAMES at 313-222-2295 or firstname.lastname@example.org.