Shaquille O'Neal and Theo Ratliff
© Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports© RVR Photos-USA TODAY Sports
Dikembe Mutombo is renowned as one of the best shot-blockers in NBA history. But against Los Angeles Lakers big man Shaquille O'Neal in the 2001 NBA Finals, Mutombo looked like a crash test dummy. This is not an opinion that belongs to a Shaq die-hard fan. Theo Ratliff, the center who should have matched up with O'Neal, harbors the same thoughts. And he honestly believes he could have stopped the Big Diesel.
Ratliff was a critical piece of the Philadelphia 76ers'
By midseason, the 76ers were the best team, but an injury would sideline Ratliff. Knowing that momentum was on their side, the 76ers front office, then led by owner Pat Croce, had no choice but to trade the injured Ratliff.
"I just went from the No. 1 team in the league to the worst team in the league. Just like that. In an instant. All-Star, top team in the league, one of the top centers in the league, top centers in the East; and just like that, I get demoted to the Hawks," Ratliff said, per dafa news.
Ratliff had a decent stint in Atlanta. He led the league in blocked shots once while donning the Hawks jersey. However, the team was nowhere near contention. They either finished 11th or 12th in the East during Ratliff's tenure. Playing in the NBA Finals and guarding Shaq haunted his mind.
According to Ratliff, things would've turned out differently if he wasn't sidelined, remained in Philly, and played the Lakers in the NBA Finals. Ratliff isn't merely bragging and boasting. He shared his detailed plan on how to contain Shaq. While Ratliff is known for his defense, it isn't necessarily through this method that he intended to contain O'Neal.
In addition, Ratliff believes that Dikembe's lack of athleticism limited the 76ers' spacing. Ratliff believes that the lane wouldn't be as clogged if he was on the roster. Iverson, the central offensive orchestrator, would have had an easier time getting to his spots or looking for the open man.
"I knew once they had Dikembe, he's not that athletic. He's another anchor that's going to sitting in that middle with another big so the lanes are not going to be as open as they were with the nucleus that we had where I could step outside and I could move around outside and do a bit more than he could to provide some open lanes them and also run the break and things of that nature," Ratliff added.
Ratliff certainly has an interesting strategy. It's impossible to outmuscle Shaq, so why go through to the ends of the earth to do so? Besides, basketball isn't all about playing defense. The offense plays a crucial part too. Shaq's heft is both a strength and a weakness. Ratliff knows that his mobility will give him a slight edge over the Big Diesel.
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