The Rockets Were Simply Too Much
Shaquille O’Neal, having been a tremendous defender himself, would certainly have been a tougher matchup for Hakeem if he was in his prime, but the bottom line is he wasn’t going to stop him. Olajuwon was on a mission that no one in the league, prime or not, was going to deny.
The fact that Hardaway also points to Shaq’s age as being a factor in the Magic not getting it done is also faulty. Tim Duncan (1999), Kawhi Leonard (2014), and Magic Johnson (1982) were all 22-years old when they won an NBA Finals MVP, and Johnson even did it two years prior at age 20.
The greatest of the greatest, which Shaq certainly is among, find a way to win when it counts provided they have a good enough supporting cast — which he did once he left for Los Angeles.
Even if Shaq and Hakeem each other to a wash, Houston’s supporting cast was superior in those Finals, particularly Clyde Drexler and Robert Horry. Hardaway himself talked about how the Rockets didn’t seem to miss after stealing Game 1.
“They shot the crap out of the ball,” said Hardaway. “Kenny, Cassell, Maxwell, Horry, Elie.” Over the course of the series, the Rockets shot 47.2 percent to Orlando’s 46.6 percent overall and 40.2 percent from beyond-the-arc compared to 34.7.
Would Shaquille O’Neal have affected some of those easier shots Houston was getting? Of course. Would he have helped the Magic win at least a game or two? Sure. But would it have swung a sweep into four wins? Not unless Hakeem was visited by the Monstars before the series.