Los Angeles Lakers great Shaquille O’Neal often overpowered opposing centers with his tremendous size and strength. Still, that physical dominance served to his detriment against Dikembe Mutombo and the Philadelphia 76ers in the 2001 NBA Finals.
Though the Lakers bounced back to win consecutive games after shockingly dropping the opener, O’Neal expressed a great deal of frustration after fouling out in Game 3. He suggested that Mutombo was flopping, prompting the reigning Defensive Player of the Year to make some poignant comments.
Shaquille O’Neal punished Dikembe Mutombo as the Lakers seized the advantage in the 2001 NBA Finals
Shaquille O’Neal and the Lakers were stunned by Dikembe Mutombo and the 76ers in Game 1 of the 2001 NBA Finals, thanks to Allen Iverson‘s 48-point performance. But Shaq and Co. asserted their will in the next couple of games.
O’Neal dominated the paint as the Lakers took control of the series. He had 28 points, 20 rebounds, and eight blocks in Game 2, also adding nine assists. Shaq poured in 30 more points while pulling down 12 boards in Game 3.
But The Diesel wasn’t just about putting up numbers. He wanted to make a statement to Mutombo, who had won his fourth Defensive Player of the Year Award in his first decade in the NBA. Shaq hit Deke with an elbow in Game 2 that resulted in Mutombo getting three stitches. The Sixers center was unable to speak to the media after the game.
Despite being the one to dish out the physical torment, however, O’Neal felt he was being cheated by Mutombo after fouling out of Game 3.
Mutombo said O’Neal’s flopping accusations were “stupid”
Although the Lakers won Game 3, O’Neal fouled out. Four of those fouls came on the offensive end. Shaq believed Dikembe Mutombo was flopping to draw whistles and urged Deke to “play” him straight up.
Mutombo felt O’Neal’s accusations were without merit. He said (h/t the Baltimore Sun) that he had never been called a flopper and suggested he would not have won Defensive Player of the Year if that were the case. The Sixers center also referred to the elbow in Game 2.
Mutombo wasn’t backing down from Superman. He went on.
Deke said O’Neal’s comments were “stupid.” He also said the star centers could settle things on the floor and added, “I don’t give a damn what the guy’s saying about me.”
Now, Mutombo always had a certain savviness about him on the defensive end. But he hardly backed down from opposing bigs, as evidenced by having the second-most blocked shots in NBA history. The fact that O’Neal had already forced Deke to get stitches earlier in the series made the accusations all the more confusing.
Of nothing else, Shaq’s remarks appeared to turn the tide and actually get him more whistles as the Lakers wrapped up the series.
Shaq had Mutombo in foul trouble for the remainder of the series
Whether Dikembe Mutombo capitalized on some physical exaggeration is up for debate. What is known, though, is that Shaquille O’Neal and the Lakers appeared to benefit from Shaq’s accusations.
O’Neal had Mutombo in constant foul trouble the final two games of the series. He finished Game 4 with 16 free-throw attempts, and Mutombo had five fouls. Things ratcheted up a notch in Game 5, as Shaq tallied 19 attempts from the charity stripe and forced Deke to foul out.
The Lakers resoundingly won the Finals. It was a result that surely irked Mutombo, who endured a physical and psychological beating.
Stats courtesy of Basketball Reference.
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