Shaq looks back on the time he demolished Nets center Todd MacCulloch in the NBA finals

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Before the Nets moved to Brooklyn in 2012, they played in New Jersey. Those New Jersey Nets had their best NBA seasons in franchise history when they made back-to-back Finals appearances in 2002 and 2003.

That 2002 team was loaded, led by Hall of Fame point guard Jason Kidd, who was surrounded by Richard Jefferson, Kenyon Martin, Keith Van Horn and Kerry Kittles.

But that loaded squad ran into a brick wall: a Los Angeles Lakers team on the back end of an eventual three-peat, led by two of the best players of all-time — Kobe Bryant and Shaquille O’Neal.

The Lakers won that series in a 4-0 sweep, with O’Neal winning Finals MVP. He absolutely dominated the Nets, averaging 36 points, 12 rebounds, nearly four assists and three blocks per game.

In Game 2 — a 23-point Lakers win that was easily their most convincing win of the series — O’Neal went for 40 points, 12 rebounds and eight assists, shot 61% from the floor and only missed two of his 14 free throw attempts.

That’s dominant.

O’Neal explained why he was able to dominate that series in an interview with Brandon Robinson, and looking back on it, the Big Fella said the Nets made for a boring NBA Finals because their center was no match for him.

“It was boring because, what was that center’s name – Todd MacCulloch. Todd MacCulloch playing me? Stop it,” O’Neal said on Scoop B Radio. “You know what’s crazy? I actually got mad when we were playing in Jersey. You think Todd McCulloch is going to stop me at the crib in Jersey in front of my grandma and grandpa? … .Sheeeeeit! No. Stop it.”

MacCulloch was 26 years old at the time of the series and had averaged about 10 points, six rebounds and a-block-and-a-half during the regular season. Against O’Neal’s Lakers in the Finals, he recorded as many personal fouls (14) as made field goals and saw his averages decline across the board.

In truth, the Nets didn’t stand much of a chance. It wasn’t only O’Neal’s show. Bryant was almost equally as dangerous for the Lakers. He averaged 27 points, six rebounds and five assists and shot better than 50% from the field for the entire series.

Kidd nearly averaged a triple-double for the series, and Martin led the Nets in scoring, averaging 22 points per game. But that wasn’t nearly enough to compete against the Lakers.

O’Neal dominated MacCulloch, but he had been on the receiving end of a mismatch in a previous NBA Finals, as well. His Orlando Magic made it to the NBA Finals in 1995, only to be upended by Hakeem Olajuwon’s Houston Rockets in a 4-0 series sweep.

Shaq, though, used that disappointing loss as fuel for his future exploits across the league.

“After making it to the Finals in (‘95) and getting embarrassed by Hakeem Olajuwon, I said to myself, ‘if I ever go back, I gotta put on a performance so dominant that it won’t be a question who the champ is,’” O’Neal told Robinson.

O’Neal finally did return to the Finals with the Lakers in 2000, where he dominated Pacers big man Rik Smits to the tune of 38 points, almost 17 rebounds and three blocks per game. Smits, who O’Neal said used to dominate him when he was younger, had a similar fate to MacCulloch.

“I had another thing motivating me. Rik Smits used to kill me when I was younger,” O’Neal said. “He came in the game (saying) ‘Oh yeah, Shaq’s a dog. He’s the same ol’ Shaq, giving out elbows to the face and in your mouth and in your nose… I’m coming to take this trophy by any means necessary.’

“So there was something that I had to prove and set an example and something that had to be done because, if we don’t win that first one, they’ll probably break us (Kobe and I) up and it’ll be a lot more negative stuff to talk about.”


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