If the Clippers were hoping Laker center Shaquille O'Neal would take it easy on them because Monday was his birthday, they sure were wrong.
O'Neal, who turned 28, ripped through the Clippers' collection of big men as if they were wet food stamps in scoring a career-high 61 points to lead the Lakers to a 123-103 victory over the Clippers before a sellout Staples Center crowd of 20,385, the largest to attend an NBA game in Southern California.
O'Neal knew he was going to play well when he found out he had to purchase his allotment of tickets before the game.
"Don't ever make me pay for tickets," said O'Neal, who made 68.6% of his shots from the floor (24 of 35) and 59.1% of his free throws (13 of 22) and grabbed 23 rebounds.
The performance was the highlight of a highlight-reel game that gave the Lakers their 16th consecutive victory, matching their longest win streak of the season. Only one other team in NBA history has consecutively won 16 or more twice in the same season. The Milwaukee Bucks won 20 and 16 in a row in 1970-71.
With O'Neal's previous best being 53 points scored against Milwaukee when he played for the Orlando Magic on April 20, 1994, the Laker center had his entire game working against the Clippers.
"The shots that I've been missing the last couple of games were falling for me in the first half," said O'Neal, who scored 15 consecutive points in the fourth quarter. "I carried them the first half. A couple of my teammates said they wanted me to get 50. I just tried to get the ball in deep position and just go up. They took care of me tonight. I would like to thank my teammates. I would like to thank Phil Jackson for giving [me] the opportunity to do this."
Clipper interim Coach Jim Todd had no answer for O'Neal.
"We tried to do everything conceivable to stop him and slow him down," he said. "He just had it going and it was tough going against Goliath. He obviously wanted to make a point. . . . I hoped he would stop at 50.
"We tried to play him straight up for a minute or so and then we tried to double [team] him. . . . The position he was getting, we couldn't do anything. We would have liked to double him, the plan was to do that."
The Lakers have now defeated the Clippers 13 consecutive times and have not lost to their cross-city rivals since March 14, 1997.
The Clippers came out inspired and determined to end their losing streak to the Lakers. They outplayed their city rivals throughout the first half but still trailed, 56-55, at halftime.
With Maurice Taylor, Lamar Odom and Derek Anderson knocking down open jumpers, the Clippers led for all but six seconds of the first half. They led by as many as nine points but the Lakers stayed close behind O'Neal and took their first lead of the game on a driving basket by Kobe Bryant to end the half.'
"It was a good game for a half . . . and we were still within 12 or 14 points in [the third quarter]," Todd said. "Shaq was a one-man wrecking crew."
O'Neal, who had 11 dunks, had plenty of support from his teammates.
"It takes a lot of team play for someone to have a night like that," Jackson said.
The rest of the Lakers enjoyed the show. "He's the best player in the league because he is just as unselfish as we are," point guard Derek Fisher said. "We wanted to get this for him."
Meanwhile, Bryant finished with 22 points and five assists, including a lob pass for O'Neal's final points. Glen Rice finished with 16 points, giving the Lakers' Big Three 99 points for the game.
Taylor led the Clippers with 25 points and 10 rebounds. Odom added 17 and 10.
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Most points scored in a game in L.A. Laker history:
vs. New York, 11-15-60
vs. Phoenix, 2-9-69
vs. Philadelphia, 12-8-61
vs. New York, 1-17-62
vs. Clippers, 3-6-00
A look at Shaquille O'Neal's numbers Monday:
Field Goal: 24-35
Field-Goal Pct.: .686
Free Throws: 13-22
Free-Throw Pct.: .591
Off. Rebounds: 7
Total Rebounds: 23
Some numbers in O'Neal's career:
Times he has . . .
scored 30-39 points: 182
scored 40-49 points: 28
scored 50+ points: 3
grabbed 20+ rebounds: 26
TOP WINNING STREAKS
16 Dec.11-Jan. 12
16 Feb. 4-current
7 Nov. 24-Dec. 7
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Score and opponent's field-goal percentage in each game:
Opponent Score (Pct.) 1. Utah 113-67 (.296) 2. Denver 106-98 (.419) 3. Minnesota 114-81 (.341) 4. at Chicago 88-76 (.377) 5. at Charlotte 92-85 (.416) 6. at Orlando 107-99, OT (.454) 7. at Phila. 87-84 (.388) 8. at New Jersey 97-89 (.436) 9. at Cleveland 116-98 (.468) 10. Boston 109-96 (.416) 11. Houston 101-85 (.358) 12. at Portland 90-87 (.404) 13. Vancouver 103-91 (.447) 14. Indiana 107-92 (.395) 15. Miami 93-80 (.417) 16. Clippers 123-103 (.409)