Something similar happened during the 1993-94 NBA season, with main protagonists of the story being David Robinson and Shaquille O’Neal. David Robinson and the San Antonio Spurs successfully staged a coup to overtake Shaq for the 1993-94 scoring title. The plan was simple: keep him in the game for as long as possible and cater the offense solely towards him, making sure that when the final buzzer sounds, the Admiral has enough points to his name.
Going into the final game, the margin between their scoring averages was .06 points. It doesn’t sound like much, but it was apparent the Admiral needed a monster scoring display to become league’s leading scorer for the year.
The Spurs played the Clippers, a perfect team for Robinson to go off against. He scored the team’s first 18 points of the game. The Admiral followed it up with a weak six points second-quarter performance. The pace he was on wasn’t nearly enough to overtake Shaq, and he needed to up his game in the second half.
D-Rob did just that, dropping 18 in the third, and 28 in the fourth quarter. Add it all up, and you get 71. So yeah, in his final game of the season, Robinson dropped his career-high, beating his previous by 19. He also set the franchise record for points in a single game previously held by George Gervin.
Robinson went 26-for-41 from the floor and hit 18 of his 25 shots from the charity stripe. He also grabbed 14 rebounds and dished out 5 assists. He did it in team-high 44 minutes on the floor, in a 15 point win over the Clippers.
“Those were a legit 71 points. He played 44 minutes when he should have played 48. Everybody wanted him to get it, and everybody was mad that he was passing some shots up. David deserves it. Sometimes I have to push David to become selfish.”John Lucas, LA Times
You get the rationale behind Coach Lucas’ words, but many resented him for the way he did it. Or credited him, depends how you look at it. Up by over 20 with a minute left, Spurs’ players purposely fouled the opposing team under the instruction of coach Lucas. It resulted in the Admiral getting a few more shots up, scoring 7 points in the final minute.
Robinson didn’t hide his excitement. I mean, he became the fourth player in the NBA history at the time to score 70 or more in a single game, after it was done by Elgin Baylor, Wilt Chamberlain, and David Thompson.
“I looked up at the scoreboard and said ’71 points. Oh, my goodness!’ It was unbelievable. My team has been behind me the whole year. They always push me to do a lot of individual things. As a leader, I just try to win games, but tonight they really wanted me to shoot it. When the game started, they were looking for me almost every time down the court.”David Robinson
And what did Shaq do? He put up a casual 32 points and 22 rebounds performance against the Nets, saying he couldn’t care about the title. After they both finished their last regular-season games, the end result was this: Shaq finished the season averaging 29.3 PPG – 0.5 less than Robinson’s 29.8.
Spurs’ and Robinson’s efforts weren’t in vain, as he took home the scoring title, beating Shaq to it in the final 48 minutes of the season. I guess there’s something about the Spurs and photo-finish scoring title races.