Celtics

O'Neal's consistency helps keep C's afloat

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O'Neal's consistency helps keep C's afloat

By: Rich Levine
CSNNE.com

BOSTON When the Celtics signed Shaquille ONeal last summer, they did so with the expectation that there would be gameshowever few and far betweenlike last Wednesday, when ONeal tallied 25 points and 11 rebounds in a six-point win over the Nets.

Thats vintage Shaq, and it was fair to assume that there would be nights when hed re-surface, dominate the paint and post numbers comparable to his 24 and 11 career averages.

But as the team introduced the 38-year-old ONeal at that August press conference, never in their wildest dreams could they have imagined the player Bostons seen of late.

I didnt know, Doc Rivers said of his initial expectations for ONeal, who notched 16 points and nine rebounds in Fridays win over the Raptors. I honestly didnt know what to expect. Id love to tell you that I did, but I really didnt. I saw him last year, and there were games in Cleveland where he looked pretty good, but also games where he didnt. I didnt know. I knew we were getting size.

But so far this season, Shaqs been so much more. The size is there, of course. With ONeal the size is always there. But what hes brought so surprisingly this season is consistency. Hes been a guy who not only posts the periodically impressive stat line, but also the one who shows up every night, who gives the team quality minutes; hes a center who you can set your ridiculously oversized watch to.

The reason ONeals consistency is so shocking isnt a matter of effort, its a physical thing. At 38 years old, Shaqs body isnt as resilient as it used to be, and after missing a few games this pre-season with a bum hip, and then another five to start the regular season with an injured knee, it looked like it might be a long year for the Big Shamrock. But since returning to the starting line-up on November 11, ONeals reached double figures in six of eight games and has grabbed at least five boards and played at least 20 minutes every night.

Again, these arent press-stopping numbers, but the Celtics are getting them every single night, and considering the injuries and inexperience thats plagued the front line, that nightly contribution is invaluable.

Oh, wed be in trouble, Rivers said when asked where the Cs would be without Shaq this season, with (Jermaine ONeal) out and Semih (Erden) trying to figure things outwe cant forget that hes a rookie too, from another country.

Shaqs played his best ball over Bostons current three-game win streak, during which hes averaging 18 points and 10.3 rebounds a game. But for a man who, over his career, has earned the reputation as one of the least bashful, more bragadocious players in the game, ONeal has been quick to down play his recent success, and defer credit to his teammates.

Its not that Im carrying the load, ONeal said after Fridays win. Im playing with a lot of great guys. Its not all on me. When Paul comes to the hole, you have to pay attention, and Im just getting a lot of easy baskets. At 38, thats kind of how I want it. Im not trying to back down, take 30-40 shots, but when the guys give me my five to six to eight shotsthen I just have to finish. Every time."

But again, for Shaq to finish, he has to be on the court, and to be on the court, he has to be healthyand right now, he feels better than he has in sometime.

I felt good last year, then Big Baby chopped me down, and I had to relax for eight weeks. It was hard to do that. But Im on a mission," ONeal said. Im in shape, I live on a farm, no night life, no messing around. A lot of times when I was younger Id wear myself out with non-basketball activities. Being that I live an hour away from the fun, I just stay home and rest and watch TV.

But regardless of how great he feels, or how well he performs, dont expect Rivers to get carried away extending ONeals minutes. In fact, when the idea was brought up after the game, the coach couldnt have changed the subject any faster.

Im just gonna leave it alone, Rivers said. What happens happens.

But for now, whats happening is that Shaq is bringing his A game every night, and keeping the Celtics center position afloat as Jermaine ONeal and Kendrick Perkins work back from injury, and Semih Erden works on adjusting to life in the NBA. What's happening is that Shaq's focused on bringing another title to Boston. So much so that he's coined a new slogan:

18-25," O'Neal said of his quest for another title. "The city wants 18, Doc and them want 2, and I want 5. Every day when I think about what were trying to do, its 18-25."

Rich Levine can be reached at rlevine@comcastsportsnet.com. Follow Rich on Twitter at http:twitter.comrlevine33

The solution for Celtics? Play better down the stretch

The solution for Celtics? Play better down the stretch

BOSTON – If there’s one thing we’ve learned about Brad Stevens in his time as Celtics coach, it’s that he’s not about that sugarcoating life.
 
When it comes to his team, he’s about as transparent a coach as you will find in the NBA.

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So, when he says his team has been outplayed in both of its first two games, he’s not doing it as some stealth rallying cry.
 
He’s doing it because it’s where they are at this moment.
 
“So, whatever that’s attributable to, we’ve got to fix it, we’ve got to be better at it, regardless of when it is,” Stevens said.
 
Boston will get another crack at it on Friday night against a Philadelphia squad that, like the Celtics, is also searching for its first win of the season.
 
Struggling to win games is something the Sixers have grown accustomed to in recent years.
 
But the Celtics have been on an upward trajectory every year under Stevens’ watch. And while it’s far too soon to panic over their start, players understand that change must come about soon if they are to get on the right track and have the kind of season they envision for themselves as a group.
 
“Brad’s right, we have a lot of plays to clean up and a lot of stuff to get better at, but that’s’ the beauty of it,” said Jaylen Brown. “We got a really good group and a lot of young guys – we’re going to move forward and take that challenge. We’re going to win some games; we’re going to win a lot of games here in Boston.”
 
But doing so won’t be easy, not with the Celtics still trying to find the best way to move forward following Gordon Hayward’s left ankle injury that may keep him out for the remainder of this season.
 
The Celtics have led in the fourth quarter of both losses before eventually failing to make the necessary plays down the stretch to ensure victory.
 
Some of that has to do with the unfamiliarity - not a surprise when you add 10 new players to the mix in one offseason. Another contributing factor is, because of injuries, there are players elevated to more prominent roles who were otherwise seen as simply depth additions at the end of the bench.
 
Whatever the reasons may be, the bottom line is clear: the Celtics have played two games where they were outplayed enough to lose. 
 
“I don’t want to make the excuse that we’re a young team, but we are,” said Kyrie Irving. “We have some experience here and we have to utilize that and continue to exude confidence in young guys and ourselves and understand the game comes in waves. There are going to be ups and downs. We have to be able to withstand other team’s runs as well as hit back and have that hit-first mentality in the first quarter, second quarter, third quarter and fourth quarter. Once we start understanding we have to put a complete game together, myself being at the head of the ball and being better with it and putting guys in the right spots, we’ll be fine.”

Agent says Gordon Hayward is unlikely to return this season

Agent says Gordon Hayward is unlikely to return this season

Hopes that the Celtics would have Gordon Hayward back in the lineup later this year were dashed last night by Hayward's agent, Mark Bartelstein.

Hayward underwent surgery Wednesday night for a fractured and dislocated left tibia, and Celtics coach Brad Stevens had said earlier in the day that Hayward's prognosis would be better known after doctors saw the extent of the damage. When the operation was over, Bartelstein told ESPN's Adrian Wojnarowski not to expect Hayward to play again this season.

But there is good news:

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“We’re expecting this to be a full recovery,” Stevens had said earlier. “No timeline on it, but a full recovery.”

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