Shaq’s five most memorable Magic games

In 36 career playoff games with the Orlando Magic, Shaquille O'Neal averaged 25.3 points, 11.4 rebounds and 3.7 assists while shooting 58.3 percent from the floor and a semi-respectable (for him) 51.1 percent from the free-throw line.

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ORLANDO, Fla. — Shaquille O’Neal was someone who always triggered strong opinions from others throughout his playing career.

So why should a look back at the four years he spent with the Orlando Magic be any different?

As easy as it is to recall when he tore down a basket support at Phoenix and broke a backboard at New Jersey during his rookie season, those games came nowhere close to defining his early career. The incident against the Nets was little more than a highlight-reel footnote to Nick Anderson becoming the first player in franchise history to score 50 points in a game — even after sitting out the entire first quarter.

These were the moments which showed Shaq had plenty of substance to all the sizzle surrounding him:

5. CLOSING BOSTON GARDEN

The Magic weren’t supposed to have any trouble in the first round of the 1995 playoffs against the Boston Celtics, given the 22-win differential between the teams in the final regular-season standings. But the Celtics won Game 2 of the best-of-five series in Orlando and threw a scare into the Magic in both Games 3 and 4, the final games held in the historic but dilapidated Boston Garden. O’Neal’s game-high 21 rebounds helped the Magic take a 2-1 series lead, and his 25 points and 13 rebounds were instrumental in the 95-92 victory which enabled them to move on to the next round against the Chicago Bulls and the recently-unretired Michael Jordan.

4. BURNING IT UP AGAINST THE HEAT

The Magic opened the 1993-94 season at Miami with O’Neal having earned Rookie of the Year honors but also having received some criticism for dabbling in commercials, movies and rap music when he had yet to be part of a team in college or the NBA which contended for a championship. He silenced that talk by exploding for 42 points against the Heat at the old Miami Arena, where the Magic had lost all five of their previous games since entering the league. Penny Hardaway had 12 points, eight rebounds and eight assists in his pro debut. Little-known fact: The starting power forward for the Magic that night was Larry Krystkowiak, now the head coach of the Utah team in the Sweet 16 of the NCAA Tournament.

Anderson, Williams honored to have Shaq join them in Magic Hall of Fame

3. GOING OFF FOR 53 POINTS

It was Christian Laettner, not O’Neal, who wound up as the lone representative on the 1992 U.S. Olympic Dream Team without any previous NBA experience. O’Neal took greater pleasure than usual in beating Laettner and the Minnesota Timberwolves because of this perceived snub, and never was this more the case than in April 1994 after the Magic had clinched their first trip to the playoffs. In an attempt to overtake David Robinson for the league’s scoring title, O’Neal made 22 of his 31 shots to establish a franchise single-game scoring record which lasted until Tracy McGrady poured in 62 points in March 2004. O’Neal had only one other game of more than 50 points in his career, a 61-point outing for the Los Angeles Lakers in 2000 against the Los Angeles Clippers.

2. A TRIPLE-DOUBLE THE HARD WAY

Seven months after nearly bringing down a backboard on the top of the head of Dwayne Schintzius, O’Neal returned to his native New Jersey and did something truly impressive. He scored 24 points, grabbed 28 rebounds and blocked 15 shots as the Magic pulled out an 87-85 win. Not only were the 15 blocks a franchise record which still stands, but O’Neal never blocked as many as eight shots in a game for the rest of his career. The 28 rebounds stood as a Magic record until Nikola Vucevic had 29 in an overtime game against the Miami Heat on New Year’s Eve 2012.

1. GAME 7 OF THE 1995 EASTERN CONFERENCE FINALS

He had better statistical games earlier in the series against the Indiana Pacers, a team which swept the Magic in the first round the previous year. While his 25 points and 11 rebounds led the Magic in both categories, it was on defense where he made his biggest impact in the surprisingly one-sided 105-81 victory. The Pacers shot only 37 percent from the floor and were held to 36 points in the second half as the Magic took their cue from O’Neal in clamping down on a team which had torched them for 123 points in Game 6. In 36 career playoff games with the Magic, O’Neal averaged 25.3 points, 11.4 rebounds and 3.7 assists while shooting 58.3 percent from the floor and a semi-respectable (for him) 51.1 percent from the free-throw line.

You can follow Ken Hornack on Twitter @HornackFSFla or email him at khornack32176@gmail.com.