Last summer, when the Phoenix Suns didn’t want him anymore but he still had something left in the tank, Shaquille O’Neal was picked up by the Cleveland Cavaliers and paid $20 million to do two things: Help them beat Dwight Howard, and help them beat the Lakers’ big man combo of Pau Gasol and Andrew Bynum.
As the playoffs whittle down to the elite of the elite, the other parties are taking care of their end of the arrangement: The Magic are one win away from a potential Eastern Conference Finals matchup with the Cavs, while the Lakers are one win away from the Western Conference Finals and on-track to make a return trip to the NBA Finals. But Shaq and the Cavs still have to handle their business in order for the Diesel investment to begin to pay off.
Tied 2-2 with the Celtics in the conference semis, the Cavs have to figure out Boston before thinking about Orlando or L.A. In yesterday’s Game 4 loss, Shaq put up 17 points, six rebounds and two blocks — his best postseason performance to date with Cleveland — but he played less than a minute in the fourth quarter before picking up his fifth foul and sitting on the bench the rest of the game. In today’s Akron Beacon Journal, how Shaq was (or wasn’t) used down the stretch was discussed:
”Shaq played extremely well and I think it’s kind of surprising that we didn’t see him back on the floor the entire fourth quarter,” LeBron James said after the 97-87 loss.
Indeed, O’Neal proved effective offensively, but in other ways, as well. Early in the game, he was responsible for drawing fouls from Celtics defenders, a fact that put them in trouble and put him at the line 11 times in the game.
But his absence in the fourth gave point guard Rajon Rondo, who was already having a game that will be emblazoned in Celtics lore, the space he needed to continue his torrid pace. With the middle freed up, the Celtics became much more active.
”They definitely turned it around after that point,” James said. ”They were able to get some stops, get some run outs. [Glen Davis] was able to get a few layups. Tony Allen was able to get a layup or two, and they were able to go up by 10 really fast.”
It also sent the Cavs scratching and clawing to get back into the game, which at one point they did.
Apparently O’Neal asked to come back into the game but never got the chance. He did not speak to the media after the game.
Cavs coach Mike Brown wasn’t asked about O’Neal during his short postgame news conference.
Boston’s big men effectively shut down Miami’s front line in the first round, but even at his age, Shaq is a different kind of monster. Switching up the game plan entirely and running the offense through Shaq isn’t the way to go, but in those games where LeBron’s right elbow is clearly bothering him, it’s not a bad temporary fix.
Cleveland’s problems in this series are more of a defensive naure, anyway, and that’s why they got Shaq in the first place. Kendrick Perkins and Big Baby aren’t scorers Shaq needs to worry about, but keeping him on the court and out of foul trouble to help slow down Rondo is key. Otherwise, we’ll never know if Shaq would have helped LeBron get over the best teams standing in the way of a Cavs championship.