Shaq provides brilliant first act


Shaquille O’Neal’s 44 points can be explained simply enough — the Sacramento Kings mostly played him straight-up on defense, unlike most teams. The big man’s 21 rebounds, including 11 on the offensive end, and seven blocked shots were something else. Perhaps Kings coach Rick Adelman analyzed it best. “The guy is unbelievable,” Adelman said after the Kings extended the defending NBA champion Los Angeles Lakers to the final seconds before losing a 108-105 decision Sunday to begin their second-round playoff series. “He’s big, he’s strong, he’s quick. “He’s learned how to use his skills as well as his bulk and height. When he’s coming into you, you have to give ground. You have to find a way to counteract it. I thought Vlade (Divac) and Scot (Pollard) tried, but he’s a handful.” Dallas will attempt to even its Western Conference semifinal series Monday night in San Antonio. The Spurs lead the series 1-0. O’Neal had 13 of his team’s 24 points and nine of its 16 rebounds — five on offense — in the fourth quarter Sunday. O’Neal had only one block of the final period, but it was a big one; he swatted away Jason Williams’ driving layup with about 17 seconds remaining and the Lakers leading 104-101. “I thought I had a shot, he just made a good play,” Williams said. “Jason’s a sneaky-type player,” O’Neal said. “I wasn’t going to jump because I thought he was going to pass off. I just waited until the last second before I blocked it.” Game 2 in the best-of-seven series will be played Tuesday night at Staples Center before the series moves to Sacramento for the third and fourth games. Kobe Bryant added 29 points for Los Angeles, meaning the rest of the Lakers combined to score only 35. But the lack of balance didn’t stop the Lakers from winning their 12th straight game — eight to finish the regular season, and four to start the playoffs. “We played good defensively on everybody but Shaq,” Divac said. “We should try to do something different on him, but everything else should be the same.” That sounds good, but more and/or quicker doubling or tripling on Shaq means more open shots for his teammates. “They were staying with Foxy, they were staying with Fish,” Bryant said, referring to Rick Fox and Derek Fisher. “That opened up the entire middle for Shaq to operate.” O’Neal said he’ll be ready for whatever the Kings do. “They were not doubling me, so I just tried to take the high-percentage shots,” he said.”Close to the basket, I’m going to take those shots all night. “They’re probably going to double a little more quickly. I’m just going to get my guys involved. They really didn’t have a chance to showcase their shots today.” O’Neal, who made 17 of 32 shots and 10-of-19 free throws, missed four straight from the foul line in the late going before making a pair with 209 left, giving the Lakers a 103-95 lead. The Kings then scored six straight points, capped by a jumper by Chris Webber with 24.1 seconds left, to make it 103 101. Fisher made 1-of-2 free throws before O’Neal’s big block on Williams. Webber led Sacramento with a career playoff-high 34 points and eight rebounds. Peja Stojakovic added 20 points, including a layup at the final buzzer; Williams scored 14 but committed six of the Kings’ 16 turnovers, and Pollard had 14 rebounds in 21 minutes. “We definitely felt we executed and played well,” Webber said. “I’m not disappointed in our effort or anything else, I’m just disappointed with the outcome and looking forward to coming here and playing Tuesday.” While acknowledging O’Neal’s dominance, Lakers coach Phil Jackson pointed to Fox’s defensive effort on Stojakovic as a key factor. Stojakovic made only 6-of-18 shots, with many of the attempts under heavy pressure. “I dodged a bullet, in some cases,” Fox said.”We’ve been a better defensive team in the playoffs than we’ve been all year. We knew it was in us, we just had to find it.” Bucks 104, Hornets 92 Ray Allen scored nine of his 26 points in the fourth quarter and host Milwaukee held on to beat Charlotte after nearly blowing a 22-point third-quarter lead in Game 1 of the Eastern Conference semifinal series. Sam Cassell added 20 points and Glenn Robinson had a career-high 11 assists as the Bucks won the opener of their first best-of-seven series in 12 seasons. Jamal Mashburn led Charlotte with 23 points. Game 2 is Tuesday night in Milwaukee.