O'Neal helps East ring up 125-115 win

Heat star entertains

Iverson named MVP

Nba All-star Game

Pro Basketball

February 21, 2005|By Michael Cunningham | Michael Cunningham,SOUTH FLORIDA SUN-SENTINEL

DENVER - It went about like Shaquille O'Neal predicted.

The Miami Heat center and Eastern Conference All-Star starter predicted the game would be about flash early, substance later. O'Neal also said teammate and first-time All Star Dwyane Wade should go for the Most Valuable Player award if there was an opportunity.

That's what happened last night. The clowning of the first three quarters, led by O'Neal, eventually gave way to reasonably competitive basketball, highlighted by Wade's 10 fourth-quarter points.

Wade didn't win the MVP - that went to Philadelphia 76ers guard Allen Iverson - but he helped the East pull away to a 125-115 victory against the Western Conference at the Pepsi Center.

In the end, not many will remember an insignificant detail like the score. Instead, they'll talk about O'Neal's in-game cell phone call to rapper P. Diddy, actor Chris Tucker dancing with the mascots or how the world's best basketball players put on a show.

But once the East's 13-point lead was trimmed to 112-107 in the fourth quarter, there was more serious basketball as the players tried to win.

"I thought the energy level was pretty good, I thought they played pretty hard for an All-Star Game," said East coach Stan Van Gundy of the Heat. "They put on a good show."

Wade (14 points in 23 minutes) made a case for the MVP with his fourth-quarter performance. After not playing in the third quarter, he made four of nine shots in the fourth quarter as O'Neal started looking for him on outlet passes.

Iverson had 15 points, 10 assists and five steals in a game-high 32 minutes.

O'Neal, a 13-time All-Star, had 12 points, including a dunk over Houston Rockets center Yao Ming, but mostly joked around. O'Neal had said he did the same in last season's All-Star Game and somehow "became the first player to win the All-Star MVP by clowning around."

O'Neal's display of showmanship began after he unveiled his size-22 red and white shoe phone in the locker room before the game. An actual working telephone mechanism is built into the sneaker, and an antenna pops out near the toes.

"It's big, you can take it anywhere, make people look at you," O'Neal said. "And it prevents muggers. Kick them right in the [behind] with that Shaq shoe phone.

"There's an addition at the top where you can pull out the strings and make it a Shaq-shoe handbag and phone all-in-one."

The silliness O'Neal displayed and the reception he received were in stark contrast to the way things went for his former Los Angeles Lakers teammate, Kobe Bryant.

Bryant finished with better numbers and was the most intense player on the court during the fourth quarter, but this show was clearly not his.

Bryant, who was accused of rape in Colorado two summers ago before the charges were dropped last September, was the only player booed during pre-game introductions. O'Neal, Iverson and Vince Carter received the loudest ovations, and O'Neal played to the crowd by strutting down the runway wearing a huge smile.

"I'm not going to make this weekend about me and Shaquille. That's not fair," Bryant said. "Even when we played together, we weren't the best of buddies. People need to leave that in the past."

When O'Neal went to the free-throw line in the first quarter after driving around Yao Ming and dunking, he held the ball in his right hand - striking a pose, as the fashionistas say - as he shot the ball one-handed.

Naturally, given O'Neal's history as a poor foul shooter, he missed.

LeBron James and Iverson teamed up on the prettiest play of the first quarter, an alley-oop dunk by the 20-year-old Cleveland guard who became the second-youngest All-Star starter in NBA history.

The crowd laughed at Bryant when his off-the-backboard pass to Kevin Garnett on a two-on-one break failed to find its target, though they oohed in appreciation when Bryant, who is right-handed, banked in a 14-footer shooting it lefty.

Bryant again wowed the crowd late in the second quarter by reaching behind his head to catch an alley-oop pass from Steve Nash and slamming it through.

But by far the best dunk of the quarter came when Carter drove the middle and tossed it hard off the backboard before catching the ball and jamming it with two hands.

O'Neal went to the line once more, midway through the third quarter, and displayed his usual form - or lack thereof - in missing two more free throws as the ball came off his hand with sidespin on the first one and topspin on the second.

After Bryant hit a pair of three-pointers to close the West to 110-105, O'Neal bounded off the bench to return.

The West never pulled close, and the game ended with O'Neal getting to attempt a three-pointer.

It missed, but it didn't matter. The showman had gotten the last moment in the spotlight.

The South Florida Sun-Sentinel is a Tribune Publishing newspaper. The Associated Press contributed to this article.

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