The big fella got the best of Pop by knocking down 5-of-8 from the chairty stripe.
(D. Clarke Evans/NBAE/Getty Images)

Suns fans are always fired up when it comes time for their team to do battle with the Spurs. But Shaquille O’Neal decided to heat them up a few more degrees when he lashed out at Spurs Head Coach Gregg Popovich a couple weeks ago on Sports 620 KTAR.

“The Big Aristotle,” after keeping to himself about the matter during the playoffs last season, called out Popovich for his use of “Hack-a-Shaq” tactics when his team was leading. For those who have missed basketball over the past decade, “Hack-a-Shaq” is a tactic where a player will intentionally foul Shaq (or another notoriously poor free-throw shooter) to capitalize on his 50 percent shooting from the line.

With success, Popovich was able to use that strategy to his advantage during last season’s playoffs, employing the technique even while his squad was leading. That was the part that “The Diesel” didn’t particularly like.

“The only thing I call cowardly is when you’re up by 10 and do it,” said O’Neal. “That’s a coward move and he knows that and I’ll make them pay for it.”

Well I guess word got back to Popovich, who exercised the strategy on the first play of the game. Five seconds into the contest, Spurs forward Michael Finley was whistled for fouling O’Neal near half-court.

As Shaq glanced over to San Antonio’s bench to see what on earth the Spurs were doing, Popovich and his staff started laughing and gave the Suns center two thumbs up. Shaq responded with a wide grin, but that’s before getting the ultimate last laugh just a few minutes later.

The Spurs would draw on their “Hack-a-Shaq” tactics later in the first half, but O’Neal was able to make them pay by knocking down 5-of-8 free throws, forcing Pop to call off the maeuver.

Check out this video of Pop’s practical joke…