LOS ANGELES -- Livin' large and livin' easy.
That was how Shaquille O'Neal and the Lakers began the NBA Finals.
O'Neal put up numbers worthy of a champion, scoring 43 points and grabbing 19 rebounds as Los Angeles opened a big lead early, stayed comfortably ahead most of the way and defeated the Indiana Pacers 104-87 in Game 1 on Wednesday night.
''I just got the ball in deep position and took high percentage shots,'' O'Neal said. ''If those shots are falling, we're going to be a tough team to beat.''
As expected, O'Neal was an unstoppable force against an opponent with few options for slowing him down. Whether they single-teamed him or used double-coverage, nothing really worked for the Pacers in trying to stop the Lakers' 7-foot-1 MVP.
Making 12 layups and dunks, six jumpers from inside 12 feet and three hook shots, O'Neal had everything working. He shot 21-for-31 and left to a standing ovation with 2:33 remaining after throwing down his final dunk of the night to give the Lakers a 98-81 lead.
''When he gets in that kind of groove, you've got to get the ball to him,'' teammate Kobe Bryant said.
O'Neal also had three blocks and four assists, getting two of those assists early in the fourth quarter after the Pacers had their lone strong stretch of the night to pull within two points.
It was O'Neal's highest-scoring game since getting 46 points in Game 1 of the first round against Sacramento. He also had big games in his other two Game 1s, scoring 37 against Phoenix in the second round and 41 against Portland in the conference finals.
O'Neal's 21 field goals were one shy of the Finals record shared by Elgin Baylor of the Lakers and Rick Barry of the San Francisco Warriors.
''Things will change,'' Lakers coach Phil Jackson said. ''He's the frontal piece of our offensive machinery, our main weapon. Teams make adjustments, and we'll have to counter that and find offense from other players.''
Bryant added 14 points, Ron Harper had 12 and Rick Fox 11 for the Lakers, who didn't have the emotional letdown their coach feared after their stunning comeback in Game 7 of the Western Conference finals.
Instead, it was Indiana's Reggie Miller who shrunk under the pressure, shooting an abysmal 1-for-16 and scoring just seven points.
''Just one of those off nights,'' Miller said of his career playoff-low for points. ''Friday will be an on night.''
Mark Jackson led Indiana with 18 points, while Austin Croshere added 16 and Jalen Rose and Rik Smits had 12 apiece.
Los Angeles outrebounded Indiana 48-36 and controlled the game in so many ways, giving credence to those who argued that the Lakers present too many matchup problems for a Pacers team that could be overwhelmed in his best-of-seven series.
O'Neal got going right way. His line at the end of the first quarter read 15 points, on 7-for-8 shooting, five rebounds and one assist -- the latter stat coming when he passed out of a triple-team and found Harper alone in the corner for a 3-pointer that made it 33-16 late in the quarter.
Harper made all three of his shots in the first quarter while Bryant went 4-for-6, twice driving through traffic with ease to convert a dunk and layup. Los Angeles shot 15-for-22 in the quarter.
''It wasn't that easy, though it may have looked that way,'' Fox said. ''We were just so prepared not to have a letdown. We wanted to set the tone for this series.''
As well as things went for O'Neal, they were equally bad for Miller as he missed all six of his shots in the first quarter.
Miller had his first shot of the second quarter emphatically rejected by Robert Horry and didn't score from the field until past the midpoint of the third quarter. He missed every shot he took the rest of the night.
''I've never really seen him off for two straight games,'' O'Neal said. ''I know he'll come ready Friday.''
Indiana pulled within six early in the third on a 3-pointer by Rose, but O'Neal scored on a putback, Horry dunked off a feed from Bryant and Fox scored on a give-and-go layup off an assist by Derek Fisher to quickly build the lead back to 12.
The Lakers were having their way with ease, no matter which end of the court they were on. Midway through the third quarter, Jackson drove to the basket and had his shot swatted away by Bryant. O'Neal then converted a short jumper, drew Smits' fifth foul and banked in a putback for a 69-57 lead.
That was about the point when the Pacers started executing their offense as well as they had all night. Three foul shots by Miller, a three-point play by Jackson, consecutive baskets by Dale Davis and a reverse layup by Jackson made it 71-69, giving the Lakers their first scare of the night.
But Los Angeles got its lead back to six by the end of the third quarter, and O'Neal had a dunk and two assists in the first two minutes of the fourth as the Lakers quickly got their lead back to double digits.
''That was the big fella,'' Fox said. ''We've been riding his back all year. They decided to single-cover him before they sent help in the second half, but at that point he had 30 under his belt. That makes his energy go up a notch and makes him difficult to double-team.''
It turned into a blowout from there as the Lakers closed the game with a 33-18 run.
Notes: Among the courtside regulars, actress Salma Hayek made the boldest fashion statement by wearing a purple wig. ... Pacers third-string center Zan Tabak, who won a championship in 1995 with Houston, played the final 32 seconds of the first half. Tabak hadn't seen any action since the second round against Philadelphia. ... Pacers forward Chris Mullin got into the game with 6:33 left in the fourth. He did not score. ... Lakers rookie Devean George sat out with a sprained left ankle. He is expected to be available for Game 2.
Peninsula Clarion ©2013. All Rights Reserved.