Shaquille O’Neal took the court Tuesday knowing he didn’t have to worry about saving any energy for tonight’s Suns-Lakers matchup. The rest of the Suns didn’t hold much back either.
Before flying back east to attend the funeral of his great grandmother in North Carolina, O’Neal fashioned his best game as a Sun — nearly matching his age with 35 points on 14-for-19 shooting in a 125-110 rout of the Milwaukee Bucks. It was the 21st straight victory by the Suns over Milwaukee in Phoenix.
But O’Neal wasn’t the only one turning back the clock. The Suns shot 59 percent from the field, rolled up 74 points in the first half, had six players in double figures and hit the 120-point mark with more than three minutes left to play.
Mike D’Antoni isn’t due back in town with his Knicks for another week — but some memories came floating back six days early as the Suns won back-to-back home games for the first time this season and pumped up the offensive volume — as general manager Steve Kerr clapped and rubbed his hands together with a “That’s more like it” smile across his face.
“It was a solid win and especially at that pace,” said Suns coach Terry Porter, who completed a two-game sweep over the organization that fired him. “We got the tempo we wanted and we got the opportunities for Shaq in the post.”
O’Neal, who tore up the Bucks for 29 points and 11 rebounds in Milwaukee on Nov. 8, was even better this time. He scored on jams, layups, banks, fades, finger-rolls and even free throws (7-for-12) as he put Andrew Bogut in foul trouble early and needed just nine minutes to foul out Bogut’s understudy, Dan Gadzuric.
“Terrible is the first word that comes to mind, but it wasn’t that good,” said Milwaukee coach Scott Skiles, O’Neal’s former Orlando teammate with whom no love is lost. “His two best games of the year have been against us. For whatever reason, he must feel pretty comfortable against our guys. He just takes it down there and scores. We haven’t had a lot of answers for him.”
O’Neal will miss his first chance to play the Lakers in Staples Center since his Feb. 6 trade and could miss Friday’s home game against Orlando as well. But his 35-point night was his first since March 6, 2006 (in a Miami win over Charlotte) and paced the Suns to their biggest offensive output since putting up 127 against Memphis on April 8 of last year.
“They keep feeding me like that, those are the numbers they can expect out of me,” O’Neal said. “That’s what everyone envisioned for this team to go far. That’s the type of game we can play. When the other team misses, Amaré (Stoudemire) and myself get the rebound and we snap it out and we run. If they score, we come down and Amaré or I touch it and we go from there. When teams don’t double me and I get the touches, those are the numbers you can expect.”
Stoudemire had the numbers too with 22 points and eight boards while Steve Nash added a double-double (19 points, 10 assists) and Leandro Barbosa (15), Raja Bell (14) and Grant Hill (11) all added to the parade.