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Shaq Not Around for Rally, but He Played a Big Part in It

April 22, 1999|TIM KAWAKAMI

Kobe Bryant was the ultimate finisher--despite being benched to open the second half, he scored 25 in the second half and overtime, scored 16 in the fourth quarter alone, and tipped in the overtime-forcing basket that capped the Lakers' spectacular comeback from a 28-point deficit to beat Golden State on Tuesday.

Shaquille O'Neal, though, might have played just as key a role as the field general who gave himself up to inspire the troops and support Bryant, with whom he has had sometimes chilly relations.

Several Laker observers pointed to the symbolism of O'Neal drawing a technical foul by screaming at the officials in defense of Bryant, who lay slumped on the floor after banging into Felton Spencer.

O'Neal's second technical came when he raced up and shoved Bimbo Coles after Coles pushed Robert Horry in the second quarter.

"He's going to fight for us," Bryant said Wednesday. "He's like a big brother. He's not going to take it. We all know where he's coming from. . . .

"Everybody knows Shaq is a vocal guy. He's going to get on you if you mess up or something like that. And another team, say if somebody pushes Ricky [Fox] or something like that, he's going to get on them. That's the type of person he is."

O'Neal, at the urging of Glen Rice sitting nearby, did not speak to reporters before Wednesday's game.

Bryant said that, even though the two aren't exactly chatty with each other, he and O'Neal understand each other on the basketball floor.

"I always knew he was going to be there, you know what I mean?" Bryant said. "You go to war, you go to war. He's a guy I'm going to take to war with me."

Coach Kurt Rambis said he will never be upset with O'Neal showing emotion in support of his teammates.

"He argued a call to get a technical that was involved with Kobe--that had nothing to do with him," Rambis said. "He was sticking up for his teammates . . .

"I obviously don't want him to get kicked out of the ballgame, but to me, he was just covering his teammates' backs. I liked it. I liked it a lot.

"I think that means a lot to his teammates. . . . We've always encouraged him to be a leader on this team, to step up and do and say the right things all the time.

"Part of being a leader is communicating--he's got to be able to resolve any problems and deal with any issues that might come up with the ballclub, so he needs a good relationship and have communication with all the guys."

Including Bryant.

"I don't believe that you have to be good friends to be good teammates," Rambis said. "You just have to have good communication on the court when it comes to playing your game.

"They don't have to go out and hang out with each other. If that's the way it works out, great, but if it doesn't work out . . . I mean, I'm not saying you're mortal enemies off the court and all of a sudden you just erase everything when you get on the court.

"But I don't believe you have to be good friends off the court to be good teammates. I don't believe that's a necessity. It helps. but it's not a necessity."

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