The retirement of Shaquille O'Neal after 19 seasons in the NBA has brought forth a flood of nostalgia of his many career exploits. From Orlando to Los Angeles to Miami to Phoenix to Cleveland, and yes even to Boston, The Big Aristotle left his indelible mark in some way or another. Shaq will almost certainly be remembered mostly as a Laker, as he spent eight seasons in L.A. and won three titles. That brings us to his final great performance with the Lakers: Game 4 of the 2004 NBA Finals.
The 2003-2004 Lakers personified dysfunction. Former All-Stars Karl Malone and Gary Payton, now on their last legs, joined the Lakers in an attempt to win that elusive ring. Meanwhile Shaq and Kobe, now in their eighth year together, were growing increasingly distant, and that's not even taking into account Kobe's off-court problems and countless legal proceedings in Colorado that season. Somehow the aging Lakers were able to put their dysfunction aside and make it to the NBA Finals, where they were a heavy favorite over the Detroit Pistons.
Only it wasn't to be, as Detroit came together as a team and thoroughly outplayed the Lakers, winning in five games. It was the end of that Laker team, as Shaq was traded during the offseason to Miami. However, when the series was still somewhat of a series, with the Lakers down 2-1, Shaq put on a show in Game 4 at The Palace at Auburn Hills.
O'Neal made 16 of his 21 shots, dominating down low with 36 points and 20 rebounds, his fifth career 20-20 game in the NBA Finals. To put that in perspective, there have only been nine 20-20 games in the NBA Finals since 1983, and Shaq has five of them. "He could've had 60 tonight," teammate Rick Fox said of Shaq, after the game. Of course, had the Lakers gotten him the ball more during that game (Kobe was 8-for-25, for instance), they might have had a better fate than an 88-80 loss, which all but sealed their fate for the series.
During his Lakers career, Shaq played in four NBA Finals, averaging 33.6 points and 14.1 rebounds in 20 games, all while shooting 60.2% from the field.
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