O’Neal and the Heat try to extend the team’s longest winning streak in nearly seven years to nine games as they host the Boston Celtics.
While the superstar center is still doing his fair share of scoring and rebounding—he’s averaged 25 points and 10.3 boards over the last four games— O’Neal also has made key contributions lately finding open teammates.
In Sunday’s 117-107 win over Orlando, he fed Eddie Jones for a 3-pointer that put Miami ahead to say with just under five minutes left, then passed to Christian Laettner for a layup to push the lead to four. O’Neal’s three-point play a minute later made it 110-103, and he finished with 27 points and five assists.
“At the end we just ran everything through Shaq,” coach Stan Van Gundy said. “As the game goes on, the quick guys get tired and a little slower, but the big guys don’t shrink.”
Two nights earlier in a win over Denver, O’Neal had a season-high seven assists—two shy of his career best.
“They know if they get open, I’m going to hit them for the high-percentage shot,” O’Neal said.
He’s averaging 4.3 assists during Miami’s eight-game win streak, its longest since a 10-game run in March 1998. The franchise record of 11 was set during the 1996-97 season.
“We’re getting better and putting together wins,” O’Neal said. “We’re not blowing people out all the time, but we’ll get to that.”
Sunday’s victory saw the Heat trailing for much of the game, and it turned out to be only the second win in their last seven games by a double-digit margin. The last four games have all been against teams that are above .500.
Boston has moved within one game of .500 by winning four of five. Paul Pierce has averaged 26.6 points during that stretch, while starting backcourt mate Gary Payton has added 19.0 points and 7.6 assists per game.
Payton made a key 3-pointer and three free throws in the final 1:17 and Pierce had 34 points on Saturday as the Celtics snapped Cleveland’s nine-game home winning streak, 114-107 in overtime.
“We just kept sticking around, sticking around,” Boston coach Doc Rivers said after his team rallied to win for the third straight time on the road. “This was big for us.”
Rivers’ team had won just twice in its first nine road games of the season.