A week shy of his 37th birthday, O’Neal scored 45 points Friday night—his biggest offensive performance in six years—powering the Phoenix Suns to a 133-113 victory.
“He’s just so strong and pushes guys right under the basket and gets inside,” Toronto coach Jay Triano said. “We have no match for him.”
He made 20 of 25 shots in the 49th 40-point game of his career and first in four seasons. He hadn’t scored this many since he got 48 for the Lakers against Boston on March 21, 2003.
Afterward, O’Neal insisted he could do this every night if only he got the ball often enough.
“I think I’m the only player who looks at each and every center,” he said, “and says to myself, ‘That’s barbecued chicken down there.”’
Chris Bosh, one of the would-be defenders who turned into Shaq’s big meal, said O’Neal got a big lift from the officials.
“He was just camping down in the lane,” Bosh said. “I mean, if they’re not calling three seconds—I thought it was a rule, but I guess not.”
Louis Amundson scored a career-high 20 as the Suns outscored the Raptors in the paint by a remarkable 90-36. Matt Barnes added 18. Grant Hill had 14 points and 12 assists, just two shy of his career high set 11 years ago for the Suns, who were without Steve Nash for the second straight game with a sprained right ankle.
Toronto decided against double-teaming Shaq most of the night, and the results were disastrous for the Raptors in their 10th straight loss to Phoenix— whether the defender was Bargnani, Bosh, or Jake Voskuhl, who fouled out in eight minutes.
“We thought we’d have an advantage there,” Phoenix coach Alvin Gentry said.
“If I can get the touches like that, it doesn’t matter who is down there,” O’Neal said. “They’re going to have to double or triple me down there. If they don’t, especially with the way I’m shooting free throws, they will have to pay.”
O’Neal, who also had 11 rebounds, sealed the victory by scoring all of the Suns’ points in a 10-2 run that gave Phoenix a 120-102 lead with 5 minutes to play. He left the game to a thunderous ovation with just under 2 minutes remaining.
The Suns took control with a 21-8 surge that started in the third and carried over to the fourth. Phoenix scored the last seven in the outburst, capped by Jason Richardson’s 3-pointer that made it 106-95 with 9:53 to play.
Matt Barnes’ dunk on a lob pass from Hill capped a 10-0 run that gave Phoenix a 66-54 with 1:46 left in the first half. But the Raptors scored the next 11 over the final 1:06 of the quarter. Jason Kapono’s 3-pointer from the corner with 19.8 seconds left cut Phoenix’s lead to 68-67 at the break.
There were 10 lead changes in the third quarter, with the Suns up 96-90 entering the fourth.
“We were right there, man. I don’t know what happened,” said Marion, who drew a big cheer when he was introduced before the game. “We just hit the tank or something, and everything just sort of went the other way. It’s frustrating because I think the fight in us just went out the window.”
Suns fan Rhett Brown of Seattle won $77,777 from a local casino by making an underhand, two-handed shot from half court during a timeout midway through the second quarter. … Phoenix is 3-5 without Nash this season. … Hill is the only Suns player to appear in every game this season. … The Suns are 5-2 since Alvin Gentry took over as coach.