We’re going to miss Shaquille O’Neal.
Not the Shaq of this season, or even the last several. Not the guy who has played just 17 minutes since Feb. 1 because even that little time aggravates his leg injuries. That is a shell of the former player, a guy who at his peak was one of the greatest big men ever to play the game.
But the fact he is in so much pain leads one to think he may walk away after this season. Shaq has said he wanted to play one more season, at age 40, and he has a $1.4 million player option for next season. It’s his call. And as a personality it would be hard for him to walk away from the camaraderie of the locker room.
But the fact he can barely walk after 12 minutes of playoff action over two games means he may walk away after all.
And whenever he does walk away, we need to remember the Shaq of a decade and more ago. The guy who had four rings, three finals MVPs and one regular-season MVP trophy. The guy who is a career 58.2 percent shooter. The guy with the third-highest career PER of all time (Michael Jordan and LeBron James, to answer your next question).
Shaq is the guy who built the Magic into a successful franchise, bringing the game and personality to excite a young expansion market. He cemented his legacy as one of the greats in a Lakers uniform that has been worn by so many of the game’s greatest big men. He came to Miami when it was common for them to put tarps over full sections at the top of the arena and both sold the building out and won another ring with Dwyane Wade.
Shaq was as much a personality as a player, generating headlines off the court as much as on it. His feud with Kobe is the stuff of legend. He had a massive Twitter following before half the mainstream media figured out what Twitter was. You’ll remember him for dancing with the Jabbawockeez.
He should be remembered for all of it. Not this exit.
Apparently, all it takes is a little public discussion of LeBron James‘ “broken” jump shot to get him back on balance and knocking down the three ball — he was 4-of-6 from deep Wednesday.
Then again J.R. Smith was 7-of-13, Kyrie Irving 4-of-5, and as a team the Cavaliers knocked down a record 25 threes — while shooting 55.6 percent — as they wiped the floor with the Hawks in Game 2.
In case you’re curious where the Cavs were hitting from, here’s the team’s shot chart.
The Houston Rockets aren’t in any rush to hire a new head coach, preferring to interview a wide range of candidates to find the right one. Jeff Van Gundy has been widely believed to be at the top of their list, now that Tom Thibodeau and Scott Brooks are off the market, but ESPN.com’s Marc Stein is reporting another name that has entered the mix: Mike D’Antoni, who last held a head coaching job from 2012 to 2014 with the Lakers and currently serves as the Sixers’ lead assistant.
The Pacers, meanwhile, haven’t made a final decision on Frank Vogel’s future with the team, but all signs seem to point to him getting let go in the next few days. And if that happens, Stein reports that Vogel will also be on Houston’s list of candidates.
Given the Rockets’ massive drop-off on the defensive end this season, Vogel would seem to be a better fit than D’Antoni. But it sounds like the Rockets aren’t close to finding a replacement for J.B. Bickerstaff, although it would make sense to have a new coach in place by next month’s draft.
On Monday, the Hawks played the Cavaliers close and even led in the fourth quarter, leading plenty of optimism that Game 2 would be equally competitive, that the Hawks had something to build on.
The Cavs dominated from the start on Wednesday, with a 123-98 final score that was far closer than the game actually was — the Cavs led 74-36 at the half and led by as much as 38 at one point in the second half.
The Cavs also hit 25 three-pointers, which is the all-time record for a single game — regular season or playoffs. J.R. Smith hit seven of them, along with four each from LeBron James and Kyrie Irving and three for Kevin Love.
18 of Cleveland’s threes came in the first half, also a playoff record, and this was all Atlanta could do:
That’s the kind of night it was for the Hawks, who now trail 2-0 in the series as it heads back to Atlanta.
LeBron James has always been an incredible passer. In the midst of the Cavs’ Game 2 beatdown of the Hawks, he zipped this one-handed beauty into the paint to Kyrie Irving, who kicked it out to Kevin Love for a corner three:
The three was just one of the 18 Cleveland hit in the first half, which set an NBA playoff record.