YOU ARE HERE: LAT HomeCollections

No Surprise, O'Neal Carries Lakers

Pro basketball: He scores 22 of his 39 points in the fourth quarter of a 108-103 victory over the Clippers.


They always come back to Shaquille O'Neal.

When they're done coveting thy neighbor's jump shots, thy neighbor's offensive schemes, thy neighbor's freedom, they slink back to Shaq, entry pass in hand.

The Lakers were hit over the head with it again on Sunday night, when O'Neal scored 22 of his 39 points in the fourth quarter to save them all from temporary intra-city humiliation.

The Lakers defeated the Clippers, 108-103, before 18,997 at Staples Center, but not until they overcame a six-point fourth-quarter deficit, or until they scored 43 fourth-quarter points, or until they rediscovered the reason they're expected to win all these games. They've won 14 in a row against the Clippers, most easier than this.

In the fourth quarter, O'Neal required 11 field-goal attempts (he made seven) and 15 free throws (he made eight) to get there. At times before that, O'Neal was an accidental part of the offense.

While many marveled at the young hearts of the Clippers, O'Neal furrowed his brow.

"I think we played down to the level of our competition," he said. "We just have to keep learning the system, keep learning each other, and get better one game, one practice and one month at a time. We just have to play with each other a little longer. We still need to play a little bit smarter, move the ball, and play a lot more efficient. Once we do that we'll be right back where we were last year."

Translation: Give me the ball.

The offense foundered after the Lakers took a 23-14 lead out of the first quarter, when the offense went through O'Neal. There were too many jump shots, too many possessions without a pass. Even from their embryonic vantage point, the Clippers knew an opening when they saw one. They outscored the Lakers, 54-42, in the next two quarters, and eventually had five players score in double figures. Lamar Odom and Jeff McInnis each finished with 19 points, and Odom added 15 rebounds and six assists.

For the Lakers, Isaiah Rider scored 22 points in only 27 minutes and appeared to have a better sense of O'Neal than did Kobe Bryant, who ended up with 21 points.

"I was surprised in previous games when we go to Shaq, and then when we lost the lead we go back to him," Rider said.

Asked why the Lakers hadn't been more consistent in going to O'Neal, Robert Horry, who played 23 minutes, said: "I don't know. We talk about it all the time on the bench. It seems to vary from game to game. I know when he's open I throw it to him."

On O'Neal's back, the Lakers climbed out of a 71-65 hole early in the fourth quarter. They made their free throws. Even O'Neal did, when Clipper Coach Alvin Gentry went to the Hack-a-Shaq strategy.

When the free throws fell, and a few did, O'Neal turned to his left, stared at Gentry and said, "It's not going to work."

Afterward, Gentry chuckled.

"He takes it personal," he said.

The Clippers made a game of it, in part because the Lakers were stubborn, in part because they can. They ran and jumped and shot with the Lakers, as tiny pockets of people in the cavernous building they rent cheered.

The Clippers were unafraid, smiling, talking. Just playing. At times, when the Clippers swooped and scored on their youthful legs, they made the Lakers look almost stodgy by comparison.

Odom jawed with Bryant. When Ron Harper smacked away Jeff McInnis' defensive hand, McInnis put it right back on Harper's hip.

The Clippers worked to within three points at halftime, then led by three going into the fourth quarter, then battled the Lakers into the fourth quarter, even with so much of their building rooting against them.

They blocked six Laker shots in the third quarter. Darius Miles blocked a shot by Bryant. Odom blocked Harper's shot. Sean Rooks blocked O'Neal. Eric Piatkowski blocked O'Neal. They kept coming, looking confident, their strides purposeful.

Jackson spent the second quarter in his familiar I'm-unhappy-with-the-second-team pose.

He swung his left leg over his right knee. He clasped his hands, fingers intertwined, around his left knee. He stared out coldly. He rose only to talk to a referee or call a timeout.

The second unit took a 34-21 lead and turned it into a 39-36 lead.

Michael Olowokandi became a bit bolder without O'Neal around, and Piatkowski scored five points in two possessions early in the 15-5 Clipper run.

The Clippers scored 31 points in the second quarter after shooting 28.6% in the first. And Jackson pulled Bryant for a short time in the third quarter, after a curious bit of shot selection.

So, they turned to O'Neal when it got scary. Again.

"Just ride him," Horace Grant said.

Los Angeles Times Articles