CHICAGO (AP)—Eight points. Four rebounds. Five fouls. Seven turnovers.
Shaquille O’Neal couldn’t believe it, either.
“I’m very, very humiliated,” O’Neal said after practice on Friday.
With O’Neal enduring one of his worst playoff games, the Chicago Bulls beat Miami 109-90 on Thursday and cut the Heat’s lead to 2-1 in this first-round series. And the Bulls now have a chance to tie it on Sunday afternoon.
“(The players) didn’t like last night,” Miami coach Pat Riley said. “It was embarrassing. But that’s what you deal with. Once you understand what happened, you’ve got to get on with making those improvements.”
What happened on Thursday was as obvious as a Shaq dunk—and the big man had only one in Game 3.
He fell into early foul trouble, spent most of the second quarter on the sideline. Even when he was in the game, O’Neal was a non-factor.
He had just one basket in the first three quarters, scored six meaningless points in the fourth, and barely avoided his career playoff scoring low. O’Neal had seven against Houston two years ago.
The Bulls drove right at O’Neal. On defense, the perimeter players collapsed on him, and they did a better job closing out on their man when O’Neal passed out of the double team.
It added up to 46 free throw attempts for the Bulls and a rough shooting night for the Heat, who were 30-of-72 from the field after hitting half their shots in Games 1 and 2.
“They outplayed us in every category across the boards,” Riley said. “Even as well as they played, we had a chance when it was 59-56 if we could have focused for six or seven minutes.”
Then, things got ugly.
Miami’s James Posey was called for a flagrant foul two and ejected with 3:15 left in the game after knocking down Kirk Hinrich on a break. On Friday, the NBA suspended Posey for one game without pay. Six seconds after Posey’s ejection, Walker and Udonis Haslem got called for technicals.
Riley shot down the notion that his team loses its cool, calling what happened “an aberration.” He also said he doesn’t expect Posey to be suspended.
But Bulls coach Scott Skiles indicated he should be.
“I thought it was a play that could seriously injure somebody—separate Kirk’s shoulder, or something like that,” Skiles said. “Now, Kirk didn’t get hurt at all and jumped right back up. Sometimes (when) a player lays on the ground and flails around a little bit it seems like the penalties tend to be little bit harsher. Kirk did what I would have done—I would have jumped right back up, too.”
Hinrich said the foul “wasn’t that big of a deal.”
But when asked if Posey deserves a suspension, he responded: “It was obvious he wasn’t trying to make a play on the ball or anything like that. I’m not saying he’s a dirty player.”
A bigger issue for the Heat than Posey’s possible absence is getting O’Neal back in rhythm.
“You have to get touches to get rhythm,” said O’Neal, who averaged 24.5 points and 11.5 rebounds the first two games.
And he has to stay on the court to get those touches.
O’Neal said referees target him and he knew he was in trouble when he saw Bob Delaney was working Game 3.
Early foul trouble has been a season-long issue for O’Neal, and the 3.9 he committed per game was his highest average since his rookie year. O’Neal picked up his third foul about three minutes into the second quarter and spent the rest of the half on the sideline.
“He’s got to be out there on the floor, consistently,” Riley said. “Every time he’s not, it takes him out of his rhythm. He’s got to be more diligent— and we’ve got to be more diligent—as to the kind of fouls he takes.”
And while O’Neal was at a loss to explain the foul problems, Riley spread the blame.
“We have to guard the ball a lot better,” Riley said. “And he’s got to go to the rim a little more with his blocks.”