It may not have been a coincidence that Shaquille O'Neal delivered his monster performance Monday night against the Clippers on his 28th birthday.
"He said, 'I want to have a large game,' " Laker guard Ron Harper said of his large teammate, who bullied his way to a career-high 61 points in a 123-103 victory at Staples Center. "And everybody agreed: It's his birthday; let him do what he wants to do. . . .
"I couldn't go to the mall to buy him anything because he already has everything, so I gave him some assists. . . . We showed our appreciation for him for the season he is having. We came out and got him the ball where he could do his thing.
"They were kind of small down there, so we kept pounding it down inside, and any time he had the ball he just turned around and scored.
"He had fun, man."
In becoming the 16th player in NBA history to score 60 or more points--and the first since David Robinson of the San Antonio Spurs scored 71 against the Clippers on April 24, 1994--O'Neal made 24 of 35 shots and 13 of 22 free throws in 45 minutes.
With Michael Olowokandi limited to 14 minutes because of foul trouble and backup center Keith Closs sidelined because of back spasms, the Clippers tried 6-foot-10, 245-pound Pete Chilcutt and 6-9, 240-pound Anthony Avent on the 7-1, 315-pound O'Neal.
"When Olowokandi got in foul trouble and they didn't put a big body out there," Laker Coach Phil Jackson said, "we knew that if we moved the ball and found [O'Neal] in the middle, he'd have the position.
"And so the team hooked up well. They played exactly the way we'd like to see them do it. They forced a couple--they were trying to get it in there a little bit too much--but they did a nice job."
Once O'Neal got rolling and his teammates started finding him inside, Jackson said, "he had an easy time of it, actually. He had a lot of fun. And it was nice to see."