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"I don’t know how he doesn’t break joints" — Indiana Pacers described how impossible it was to stop Shaquille O'Neal in the 2000 NBA Finals

One Pacer described Shaq in that series as “an absolute genetic anomaly.”
Los Angeles Lakers center Shaquille O'Neal

Shaquille O'Neal

For the Los Angeles Lakers faithful, the 2000 NBA Finals marked the beginning of another historic run for the storied franchise. But for the Indiana Pacers, it turned out to be one of the most devastating moments in franchise history. And the culprit? The unstoppable Shaquille O’Neal.

The Pacers were ready

In retrospect, the vaunted Lakers had the best coach in the league in Phil Jackson. Atop that, Kobe Bryant was hitting his stride. Nevertheless, the Pacers headed into the NBA Finals brimming with confidence, coming off a triumphant and vengeful victory over their Eastern Conference arch-rivals New York Knicks. More importantly, Indiana was certain they were witnessing the best version of Reggie Miller, and the team thought they were equipped with the right tools to finally win a championship.

A lot of people don’t remember this but that was the year Reggie Miller developed a one-on-one game to go with his catch-and-shoot game,” then-Pacers assistant coach Rick Carlisle said via IndyStar. “His ability to create as a scorer and playmaker got better.

However, the Pacers knew Shaq would be a problem. But they reckoned that the 7-foot-4 All-Star center Rik Smits could reduce the damage inside the paint. They were wrong.

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It was just impossible

As it turned out, the NBA Finals O’Neal was way beyond what Indiana forecasted in all aspects. Former Pacers forward Austin Croshere admitted he was so naïve at the time, and then he realized they were dealing with what he described as “an absolute genetic anomaly.

It was hard even for someone like Rik [to stop Shaq],” Croshere reflected. “There was an idea to put someone like me on him to double him the second he catches the basketball. Even if it worked for a play here or a play there, this was a guy who was unstoppable.

Indeed, O’Neal single-handedly dominated the Pacers. In six games, Shaq racked up a staggering tally of 38 points, 16.7 rebounds, and 2.7 blocks per outing. Then-Pacers president Donnie Walsh didn’t need to be physically on the court to notice that what was killing them was literally a beast.

I remember watching him down the court on a fast break, at the last second he basically put his right foot down and cut hard to his left,” Walsh said of O’Neal. “The power. The speed. I don’t know how he doesn’t break joints. He was that strong. Nobody could stop him.

The Lakers finished the series in Game 6. O’Neal was hailed as the rightful MVP. As for the Pacers, they looked back at it as a championship that was theirs to take if it wasn’t for a freak of nature like Shaq.

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