Shaquille O'Neal never said a word to Kobe Bryant, really never looked at him yesterday in a game seemingly more than 2,000 years in the making, one-time brothers who could inspire...
LOS ANGELES — Shaquille O’Neal never said a word to Kobe Bryant, really never looked at him yesterday in a game seemingly more than 2,000 years in the making, one-time brothers who could inspire the Cain and Abel story.
But O’Neal, returning to Staples Center for the first time since the shocking trade that broke up the Lakers’ mini-dynasty and sent the NBA’s most dominant player to Miami last summer, did talk to someone courtside named Snoop Dogg. He is said to be famous but seems not to spell too well.
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O’Neal had just spun baseline and taken a lob pass for a rim-rattling, Shaq-shaking, do-you-dig-it? dunk before halftime. O’Neal hunched low into an exaggerated march back upcourt, as he did during those three Lakers NBA Finals victories, and yelled to Mr. Dogg, “I built this place.”
Once again, O’Neal helped bring it down with 24 points and 11 rebounds in Miami’s 104-102 overtime victory that was the Christmas present O’Neal most wanted.
“Shaq O’Neal fate,” he said of Bryant’s desperate three-point attempt to win the game at the buzzer.
“I had a pretty good look,” said Bryant, who scored 42 points. “I didn’t get the balance I liked, and as a consequence the shot went left.”
And with that O’Neal left the building with a smile, a franchise-record-tying 11-game winning streak and the satisfaction that his former team and major nemesis were falling short again without him.
“It was something I didn’t really want to go through,” O’Neal said of the buildup to the grudge game. “I’m glad it’s over so we can go back to doing what we do.”
No, there was no brick wall for Bryant’s Corvette, as O’Neal had joked. There was no WWE takedown, though Bryant came right at O’Neal and the basket on the Lakers’ first two possessions.
“I backed the Hummer out of the garage and went straight to the basket,” said Bryant, playing along.
But there wasn’t as much play in the game as there was gamesmanship.
Dwyane Wade, who led the Heat with 29 points, blocked a Bryant shot from behind and warned he’d do it again if he got close to the basket. And O’Neal sent his message with just over two minutes left in a tie game.
O’Neal had five fouls, and Bryant was going at him. The first time Bryant was fouled by Damon Jones. Then he missed a jumper. And the third time Bryant saw the lane open except for O’Neal, so he thought it would be a certain foul unless O’Neal made the perfect jump and play.
“Like I said, no layups and dunks,” O’Neal said.
“Basically everybody, but mostly him.”
O’Neal fouled out, and Bryant gave the Lakers a 93-91 lead from the free-throw line.
“I felt I let my teammates down, but I went to the bench and Flash (Wade) told me, ‘Have no fear, Flash is here.’ “
Wade drove for a score, the teams exchanged free throws and then Wade missed a potential winner.
Then it was Eddie Jones and Wade holding off the Lakers as Bryant, playing 50 minutes, missed his three overtime shots and eight of his last nine overall to conclude the emotional day.
“Hopefully this is all behind us now,” Bryant said. “Everyone got the first game out of their system now, and we can move on and talk about basketball.”
As basketball games go, it was a good one.
Bryant came out shooting after an extra-long practice session Friday. He had 15 first-quarter points, including three consecutive three-pointers, to put the Lakers up 17-9.
But what everyone came for was to see how he and O’Neal would approach one another just before tipoff.
The Lakers provided O’Neal a touching video tribute before his introduction, which was greeted mostly by cheers.
Players these days generally shake hands or “dap,” which is supposed to mean that pounding of fists.
“We dapped each other before the game, said, ‘Good luck,’ and that type of thing and then went about our business,” Bryant said.
Though Bryant seemed to be searching for some kind of reconciliation with O’Neal, O’Neal brushed by and gave a light tap while looking away from Bryant.
And then they played basketball. Pretty well and very entertainingly.