Monday , Apr , 25 , 2005 C.Y. Ellis

Shaq returns in Miami’s playoff win over Nets

Miami, FL (Sports Network) – Shaquille O’Neal collected 17 points and 11
rebounds in his return to the lineup, providing a significant spark to lead
the Miami Heat over the New Jersey Nets, 116-98, in Game 1 of their Eastern
Conference quarterfinal series.

O’Neal played 32 minutes and was 7-of-13 from the field in his first action
since bruising his right thigh during a win last Sunday against Indiana.

He scored well below his career playoff average and missed shots he normally
makes with consistency, but the Heat — obviously — were better with him in
the lineup.

“There was no Diesel explosiveness,” O’Neal said, referring to his popular
moniker. “Today, I had the Firecracker explosiveness.”

Miami still managed wins in its final two regular season games without O’Neal
— mostly because of the solid play of guard Dwyane Wade, who scored 32 points
to lead all players in this one.

Damon Jones added 30 points in the win, hitting a Heat postseason-record seven
three-pointers and 10 of his 12 shots overall. The guard combo of Jones and
Wade combined to go 22-of-30 from the field and Miami shot a scorching 59
percent as a team.

“Wade and Damon Jones were really, really special,” said Nets head coach
Lawrence Frank. “And because of the attention Shaq demands, we have to go back
to the drawing board.”

The top-seeded Heat, who posted an Eastern Conference and franchise-high 59
wins in the regular season, will be looking for a 2-0 lead when the series
resumes Tuesday.

Vince Carter had 27 points and 10 rebounds to lead the eighth-seeded Nets, who
needed 16 wins in their final 20 games to secure a playoff position on the
final day of the regular season.

New Jersey had Richard Jefferson back in the lineup for the first time since
the forward ruptured a ligament in his left wrist on January 8.

Jefferson scored nine points in 12 minutes off the bench, but his return —
though significant for the Nets — was dwarfed in importance by that of the 7-
foot-1 center playing for the other team.

Heat head coach Stan Van Gundy doesn’t expect O’Neal to be 100 percent healthy
before the end of this series, but that doesn’t scare him.

“He is still pretty formidable down there, and they still have to make a
decision on whether to guard him or not,” Van Gundy said.

Any doubt about O’Neal’s readiness for the game was put to rest early in the
first quarter when he scored on an alley-oop dunk to give the Heat a 4-0 lead.

O’Neal played nine minutes and scored six points in the first quarter, and
Wade added 10 points to lead Miami to a 22-19 edge at the horn.

With O’Neal on the bench to start the second quarter, Alonzo Mourning scored
four quick points to lead a 9-2 run that saw the Heat go ahead 31-21. Miami’s
lead reached 16 points when a Jones three-pointer made it 51-35 with two
minutes left in the period.

The Heat shot 53 percent for a 54-42 halftime lead.

New Jersey cut its deficit to 10 points several times in the third quarter.
But Miami responded, and Udonis Haslem’s three-point play with 5:06 left in
the period capped a 9-2 burst that gave the Heat a 75-58 advantage.

The Nets got as close as 11 points moments later before trailing 87-73 heading
into the fourth quarter. It was the same story in the final period, with New
Jersey pulling within 11 two more times.

But the Heat never let it get any closer.

“When a team shoots 59 percent and scores 116 points, rarely do you win a game
like that,” Frank said.

Nets guard Jason Kidd had 18 points, nine rebounds and four assists in the
loss. Center Nenad Krstic, who finished with 11 points and eight rebounds,
left the game late in the fourth quarter after a powerful inside move by
O’Neal sent him hard to the floor.