Celtics

Shaq with Celtics, questionable for Game 4

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Shaq with Celtics, questionable for Game 4

By A. Sherrod Blakely
CSNNE.com

NEW YORK And now for the latest installment of, 'As the Shaquille O'Neal injury drama turns,' a team official told CSNNE.com that O'Neal will in fact travel with the team to New York.

Celtics coach Doc Rivers said earlier that O'Neal was definitely out for Game 3 of Boston's first-round playoff series on Friday. However, O'Neal being with the team means that there is at least some thought to him possibly suiting up for Game 4 on Sunday.

"He's had some improvement, but I don't know how much," Rivers said on Wednesday. "If you see him on the trip, he's really close."

Prior to the team departing for New York Thursday afternoon, O'Neal was expected to do some work to see if his injury had improved enough to where it would be worthwhile to bring him to New York.

Rivers told CSNNE.com following Wednesday's film session that O'Neal was being fitted for some equipment that could ease some of the pain upon his return, a signal that the C's are very much anticipating him returning to the lineup soon.

"Obviously, if he goes on the trip we think he might play that Sunday, but we're not sure."

O'Neal has not played since April 1 against Detroit.

After missing the previous 27 games, O'Neal played less than six minutes against the Pistons before the right leg injury flared up once again.

Celtics physician Dr. Brian McKeon said that the three muscles in the triceps surae complex of his right leg are all sore.

"This is a tough injury," said Dr. McKeon. "The blood supply in this area is so weak and so poor it needs time. I was telling Danny (Ainge, the C's president of basketball operations) and the coaches, in the last 20 years of medicine this is one area we have made no progress. It's just time. It's hard to get enough healing potential in that area."

Not having O'Neal is nothing new for the Celtics.

The future Hall of Famer has played in a career-low 37 games this season.

While there are some who believe the Celtics have just been overly cautious with O'Neal, Rivers is quick to say that the reason O'Neal isn't playing is because he simply isn't healthy enough to go.

"He'll come back when he's ready to come back, and not a moment sooner," Rivers told CSNNE.com.

Based on the way their first-round series with the Knicks has gone, there doesn't seem to be an overwhelming sense of urgency to bring O'Neal back.

The C's have had their problems rebounding, and having O'Neal back would certainly help in that area.

That's why Game 3 on Friday is so pivotal not only for the teams, but it may impact how soon O'Neal returns.

If the Celtics win Game 3 and take a 3-0 lead, Boston might be less inclined to bring him back in a decisive Game 4 and instead be more focused on having him ready to go in the next round with the opponent most likely being the Miami Heat.

Rivers isn't thinking that far ahead.

"I just want to get through the next game," Rivers said. "And after that, the game after that. The game at hand, that's the only game that counts."

A. Sherrod Blakely can be reached at sblakely@comcastsportsnet.com. Follow Sherrod on Twitter at http:twitter.comsherrodbcsn

WATCH: Celtics vs. Mavericks

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WATCH: Celtics vs. Mavericks

Tune into NBC Sports Boston to watch the Celtics play the Mavericks in Dallas. You can also click here to watch the Celtics livestream presented by Nissan on the NBC Sports App. Coverage begins at 7:30 p.m. with Celtics Pregame Live Presented by ACE Ticket.

- Game preview: C's need to play Smart in Dallas

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Celtics-Mavericks preview: C's need to play Smart vs. Dallas

Celtics-Mavericks preview: C's need to play Smart vs. Dallas

Get it done. No excuses.
 
That has been how the Boston Celtics have played most of this season.
 
And if there’s one Celtics player who embodies that on this team, it’s Marcus Smart.
 
The fourth-year guard has struggled all season with his shot-making, but when the game is on the line in the fourth quarter you can count on Smart to be on the floor.

THE WINNING STREAK

He has been among the many reasons Boston has won 15 in a row, which is the fifth-longest winning streak in franchise history.
 
And Smart will be among the Celtics looking to keep it going tonight against the Dallas Mavericks.
 
Most likely, Smart will make an impact with his defense, which is among the best in the NBA.

How good?
 
Smart has a defensive rating of 93.4 (points allowed per 100 possessions) which is tops among all guards in the NBA, and ranks third among all players who have played in at least 10 games this season.
 
But in the 110-99 win over the Hawks, Smart knocked down a couple of 3-pointers which was a big deal considering how mightily he has struggled shooting the ball this season.
 
Smart is shooting 27.3 percent from the field as well as from 3-point range – both career lows.
 
However, he’s also averaging career highs in assists (4.5) and rebounds (5.1) this season.
 
And while he certainly doesn’t appear to be affected by the shooting struggles, he acknowledges that it is something that he can’t help but think about from time to time.
 
“It does affect you, especially if you’ve been working (on shooting) all summer,” Smart said. “At the same time, I don’t take as many shots. But like I said, we got other guys who are playing well. My job is to get them the ball and do whatever I can, go back down the floor, play defense and get the ball again.”

In Boston’s win over Atlanta, Smart spent a good amount of time defending Marco Belinelli who had four points on 2-for-10 shooting compared to 19 points on 6-for-10 shooting when these two teams met earlier this month.
 
Coach Brad Stevens pointed to the job Smart did on Belinelli, in addition to the clutch offensive rebound he was able to snag and quickly put back up and in that gave Boston a 103-95 game with about two minutes to play.
 
“He was really good,” Stevens said.
 
The same could be said for most of the Celtics of late.
 
Kyrie Irving is coming off his most efficient game of the season, tallying 30 points on 10-for-12 shooting from the field. Jayson Tatum had a rough start, but he came on strong as well with 14 points – all coming in the second half.
 
But the backbone of Boston’s success lies in what they’re able to get done defensively.
 
So far, Boston’s defense has been as strong as we’ve seen this early, in quite some time.
 
Boston, which has a league-best defensive rating of 95.9, has length, savvy and an overall total buy-in by the players on what Brad Stevens is looking for, from them.
 
Meanwhile, the Mavericks (3-14) are coming off their most impressive victory this season, a 111-79 win over Milwaukee.  Dennis Smith Jr. has been among the more talented rookies this season. He’s averaging 14.5 points, 4.2 rebounds and 4.5 assists per game. Dallas is indeed in a transition period where longtime superstar Dirk Nowitzki (10.3 points, 5.5 rebounds per game) is gradually passing the torch to his younger teammates like Harrison Barnes (18.7 points, 7.1 rebounds) and Smith Jr.
 
Much like the Hawks game, the Celtics must approach this game with a focus on the opponent and not their record.
 
Because the Celtics are no longer just a good team on the schedule. They are a measuring stick for most to see how they stack up against the league’s best.
 
And the Celtics understand how their success has changed how teams see them.
 
“Now that we have a reputation, I think everyone is coming for us,” said Boston’s Jaylen Brown. “Now we have to come play even harder, and I think we can do that. I think we are more than capable.”

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