This was, according to O'Neal, the big show with higher stakes. Los Angeles came into Friday's game up 3-1 but with a 3-5 record in this season's playoffs when needing one win to clinch a series. Any thoughts of a repeat failure do not apply. Then, the game started and the Lakers, as point guard Ron Harper put it, "laid an egg."
"I'm kind of upset, but like I said, the Indiana Pacers, they shot the hell out of the ball," O'Neal said. "They played very, very inspired basketball. We want to go review the tape. On Monday, we are home, and we should be ready."
The Pacers did shoot well, 75 percent in a 39-point first quarter. Los Angeles lost, 120-87, the 33-point margin the fourth largest in NBA Finals history.
And with that, visions of the Lakers coming within a quarter of blowing a 3-1 series lead over Portland, and within a game of losing a best-of-five series against Sacramento, came to the forefront.
"We laid an egg," Harper said. "There's nothing more I can really say. ... . They came out from the beginning and hit shots and then just kept hitting shots. We didn't have a chance tonight."
Now with a 3-2 series lead, Los Angeles has two home games to try to win its first NBA title since the 1987-88 season. The series resumes tomorrow in Los Angeles, with Game 7, if necessary, Wednesday.
The bad news is that such a lopsided loss might have rejuvenated a Pacers team that was admittedly down after a two-point overtime setback in Game 4.
"We bounced back from games like this before," Lakers coach Phil Jackson said. "I don't like to think of a team that has championship quality in it that loses by 33 points. We have to prove something to ourselves when we go back home in this regard."
Pacers coach Larry Bird, who is stepping down after three seasons with Indiana, talked about his team being 96 minutes away from a title after the game. That optimism was a far cry from the mood of the team after Game 4.
"You're always concerned about going on the road and playing," Bird said. "It's not the home court. We haven't played well in the Staples Center this year, but now we got a little bit more confidence than we've ever had going in there. Hopefully, we can just pull it through."
The Pacers didn't want to let the season end on their home court, and they accomplished that goal. Now comes an even more daunting task in winning in Los Angeles. Indiana is 0-3 at Staples Center this season.
"It's important for us not to allow them to celebrate winning the championship no matter where they do it," Indiana guard Mark Jackson said. "Many people got ready for a celebration [Friday], which was disrespectful to us and the character that we have. We wanted to give ourselves a chance to go back and see what we can do."
Indiana vs. L.A. Lakers
(Best-of-seven series; L.A. Lakers lead 3-2)
Game 1: L.A., 104-87
Game 2: L.A., 111-104
Game 3: Indiana, 100-91
Game 4: L.A., 120-118, OT
Game 5: Indiana, 120-87
Tomorrow: at L.A., 9 p.m.
Wednesday: at L.A., 9 p.m.*
TV: Chs. 11, 4