MIAMI (AP)—Shaquille O’Neal called it “simple basketball,” and he certainly made it look that way.
O’Neal had his second career triple-double—a 15-point, 11-rebound, 10-assist effort in 28 minutes—and Antoine Walker busted out of his slump with a season-high 32 points as the Miami Heat overcame Dwyane Wade’s absence to beat Toronto 106-97 on Tuesday night and send the Raptors to their ninth straight loss.
“I’ve been a very unselfish player,” O’Neal said. “I knew they were going to double, so I just wanted to keep my guys involved. I learned a long time ago that if I can keep my other guys involved, it’ll be an easier game for me. I just kept making the good pass and my teammates were making me look good.”
Wade, fifth in the NBA with 27.5 points per game, stayed home to continue fighting a flu-like virus that has hampered him for several days.
He missed a perfect night for the Heat, who not only won but saw their magic number for clinching the No. 2 seed in the Eastern Conference playoffs drop to two after New Jersey lost later Tuesday in Chicago.
“Obviously, I’m very happy,” Heat coach Pat Riley said.
The Raptors double-teamed O’Neal nearly every time he touched the ball, so the Heat center relied on brain over brawn and simply found the open teammates.
He set Walker up for two layups and a dunk, found Udonis Haslem for two layups, set up Shandon Anderson twice for scores, Gary Payton once for a jumper and connected with Derek Anderson twice for first-half 3-pointers that stopped a Raptors’ rally.
“He has a willingness to do that,” said Derek Anderson, who had 17 points for Miami. “That’s what people don’t understand. A lot of guys in this league don’t share the ball, regardless of what happens. And when he’s willing to do that, he gives us confidence to make plays and make shots. That’s what you need to win games.”
While the Raptors remained horrid, Mike James stayed torrid for the Raptors. He scored 32 points, his fourth straight game cracking the 30-point mark, and Morris Peterson added 23 for Toronto—which stayed close by hitting 13 3-pointers.
James ran over to congratulate O’Neal when the game ended, and the Raptors kept lobbing praise Shaq’s way afterward.
“You double him, and he shows what he can do passing-wise,” Peterson said. “That’s why he’s a Hall of Famer. He’s a guy who gets the job done. He picked us apart.”
O’Neal’s only other triple-double was Nov. 20, 1993—when he scored 24 points, grabbed 28 rebounds and blocked 15 shots for the Orlando Magic in a win over the New Jersey Nets. And his big night took some luster off Walker’s best performance in a Heat uniform.
Walker was shooting only 30 percent and averaging eight points per game in April—as the Heat got off to a 2-4 start—but connected on 13 of 26 shots, plus added eight rebounds and five assists.
“If Antoine can play like that, we can win the whole thing,” O’Neal said.
Toronto was within three points late in the third quarter before the Heat pulled away, with Walker’s 3-pointer with 5:16 remaining—followed by a kiss of his hands, which he raised skyward—giving Miami a 101-86 lead. The Raptors didn’t get closer than 10 again until the final seconds, with the outcome decided.
“I knew with Dwyane out, I was going to have to be more aggressive,” Walker said. “The last couple games, I hadn’t been looking for my shot. I’d been kind of passive. So I wanted to come out and be a little more aggressive and take some of the pressure off Shaq, and he did a terrific job finding guys.”
Haslem had 15 points and nine rebounds and Payton added 15 points for the Heat.
Walker needed only 60 seconds for a personal 9-0 run—two three-point plays, then a 3-pointer—late in the first quarter, a burst that gave Miami a 26-14 lead. He finished with 11 points in the period and 19 in the half, helping the Heat claim a 61-51 lead at intermission.
James hit a 3-pointer late in the third quarter to get Toronto within 80-77, but the Raptors got no closer. Their season is ending almost the way it began; Toronto opened the year with a 1-15 record in November, and is still winless in April.
“It’s definitely not fun being one of the first teams to be home,” James said.
James wasn’t on the floor when the second quarter began, ending a streak of 68 minutes, 6 seconds of consecutive on-court time. He played all 48 minutes in Toronto’s loss to Charlotte on Sunday. … With Wade out, the Heat used their 16th starting lineup of the season. … Payton had one made shot, one miss, one foul and one steal in the game’s first 51 seconds. … Toronto extended its NBA-record run of consecutive games with a 3-pointer to 610. … Miami is 9-1 on Tuesdays.