CHICAGO -- If his first punch had connected, Shaquille O'Neal would be facing a far harsher penalty.
After years and years of being on the receiving end of the Hack-a-Shaq defense, O'Neal finally snapped Saturday night when he was fouled hard by Brad Miller and Charles Oakley of the Chicago Bulls.
O'Neal immediately went after Miller and threw two roundhouse punches while Miller had his back turned. The first punch was the most ferocious, and fortunately it missed. The second one connected before O'Neal and Miller fell to the floor and a full-scale melee broke out.
"He lands one of those, and I feel sorry for the guy he connects with," Bulls rookie Tyson Chandler said. "Going through a whole year, that dude gets fouled a lot, and people intentionally foul him. I'm surprised he keeps his composure as much as he does."
O'Neal will likely have quite a while to regain his composure and ponder the error of his ways. The NBA was reviewing the fight Sunday, and a multi-game suspension seemed likely.
A year ago, Marcus Camby of the New York Knicks was suspended five games for throwing a sucker punch at Danny Ferry of San Antonio.
Throwing a punch of any kind carries an automatic one-game suspension.
"I'm just glad that I moved my head at the last second for no reason," Miller said. "Anybody who comes at you from behind, you have to wonder about him. I was just glad we picked up Oakley over the summer because I knew if I got into something he'd have my back. He saved me from a shattered jaw at least."
The Lakers went on to lose the game 106-104 in overtime, giving them their third two-game losing streak of the season.
They now return home for games against Memphis and Miami before playing the San Antonio Spurs next Saturday for the first time this season.
Whether O'Neal will be available remains to be seen.
Before the game, O'Neal seemed bemused that Oakley had said he would not back down from the 7-foot, 340-pound center. And as the game progressed, it was clear that Oakley was keeping his word.
Nearly every time that O'Neal got the ball in the low post, Oakley or Miller fouled him hard. O'Neal responded to one hard foul by whacking Miller in the face with his forearm.
On the play that led to the fight, Oakley and Miller both hammered O'Neal after he caught a pass.
"You can't hit him softly because he's just going to flick you off like a little fly. Just to bump him is doing nothing. You've got to wrap him up and put him on the free throw line," Miller said.
Miller emerged from the pileup shirtless, and lead referee Danny Crawford said a security guard had pulled it off Miller because he was being choked by it when O'Neal refused to let go.
Miller said his arm and chest had scratches and cuts. Oakley emerged unscathed, but Crawford said he joined the fight as a participant, not a peacemaker, which also could lead to a suspension.
O'Neal did not speak to reporters after the game.
"That was quite a calamity out there," Lakers coach Phil Jackson said. "We continually warned the referees that they were playing too rough. I hold those officials responsible for not taking control of this game earlier."