Wake up with the Celtics  and your daily dose of Irish Coffee ‘¦
On Feb. 1, when the Celtics began a two-month-plus stretch without either of the O’Neal “brothers,” if you had to put your life savings on which one would return first, how many people would’ve put money on Jermaine O’Neal ?
Not many, me included. I know I would’ve put my $47 on Shaquille O’Neal . And, as Dale Arnold  might say, if you gave Doc Rivers  Sodium Pentothal, he’d probably admit that he would’ve rather had Shaq back first. But that’s not the case.
Jermaine O’Neal is returning to the Celtics lineup for the first time since Jan. 10, when his knee swelled to the point of no return. In 17 games this season, he had averaged 5.2 points and 3.8 rebounds in 18.1 minutes.
So, what, exactly, can we expect from Jermaine O’Neal? If we can agree that all the Celtics need to replace Kendrick Perkins ‘ minutes are guys who can defend bigs, rebound the basketball and knock down open shots created by the Big Four, then J.O. can give you plenty. Not as much as Shaq, but it’s something, right?
Let’s start with defense. Here are the points per possession (PPP) and field-goal percentages allowed by Perkins, Shaq, J.O. and Nenad Krstic  on man-to-man defense in their limited time as Celtics this season:
- Kendrick Perkins (7 games): 0.81 PPP on 41.0 percent shooting
- Shaquille O’Neal (36 games): 0.77 PPP on 37.6 percent shooting
- Jermaine O’Neal (17 games): 0.76 PPP on 35.2 percent shooting
- Nenad Krstic (17 games): 0.90 PPP on 44.2 percent shooting
In a limited sample size, Jermaine O’Neal actually gave the Celtics the best defense of all four guys. Even if he can give them 15 minutes a night, that might limit Krstic’s ineffectiveness on the defensive end. When Shaquille O’Neal returns , the C’s should finally have the defensive depth at center that can fill the void left by Perkins.
Now, let’s look at rebounding. Here are the rebounding rates — or the percentage of missed shots corraled by a player in his time on the floor — for those same bigs:
- Kendrick Perkins: 19.0 percent
- Shaquille O’Neal: 14.6 percent
- Jermaine O’Neal: 12.9 percent
- Nenad Krstic: 14.4 percent
Jermaine O’Neal was not rebounding well for the Celtics, and it’s probably a stretch to believe a guy coming off a knee injury will improve in that area. Krstic has done an admirable job of replacing Perkins on the glass, and Shaq will provide further support.
Finally, let’s examine their ability to knock down shots around the basket. Here are the shooting percentages at the rim (within three feet) and from 3-9 feet for the four bigs:
- Kendrick Perkins: 65.9 percent at the rim and 33.3 percent from 3-9 feet
- Shaquille O’Neal: 71.3 percent at the rim and 35.7 percent from 3-9 feet
- Jermaine O’Neal: 64.3 percent at the rim and 22.2 percent from 3-9 feet
- Nenad Krstic: 67.9 percent at the rim and 35.3 percent from 3-9 feet
As you can see, Jermaine O’Neal has been the C’s worst scoring option in the post among their starting centers. But given that Shaq and Krstic have both outperformed Krstic, the Celtics should be able to make up for J.O.’s offensive deficiencies.
Jermaine O’Neal gives the Celtics defensive depth in the post, but don’t expect his return to suddenly jumpstart an offense that’s struggled over the last few weeks.
DANNY AINGE: ‘PERK ISN’T PERK RIGHT NOW’
Speaking of the Perkins trade, ESPN.com columnist Jackie MacMullan chatted with Celtics president  Danny Ainge about the deal and the guts that led to it. Ainge’s conclusion? “In the end, it’s all how it turns out that matters.”
All of MacMullan’s interviews are must-reads, and this is no different. The highlights:
- Danny Ainge on Perkins: “Look. Perk isn’t Perk right now. I think he will be back to his old self by next year. I think he will be fine. I want him to be. But the truth was we were playing much better with Shaq as a starter this year than at any time with Perk.”
- Larry Bird  on Ainge: “He runs his basketball team the same way he used to play — he lets it fly. It’s always all out with Danny.”
- Suns GM Lance Blanks on Ainge: “He seems fearless in his approach. He’s not afraid to try and improve his team.”
- Nets GM Billy King on The Trade: “I think maybe the way Danny was looking at it is there is only one big center to deal with in the East and that’s Dwight Howard . But now you’ve got to worry about LeBron [James] and Carmelo [Anthony], guys who are hard to guard, and that’s where Jeff Green  comes in.”
- Danny Ainge on the Ray Allen  trade: “It was risky, but I felt it was worthwhile. Even if we ended up with Ray Allen and Paul Pierce  and Al Jefferson , it might have not been what I hoped for, but I still wouldn’t have regretted it. We needed Ray to have any chance at KG.”
- Danny Ainge on the Kevin Garnett  trade: “Kevin McHale  did not trade Kevin Garnett to me because we’re friends. Kevin is a Celtic and will always be a Celtic, but when he was working for the Minnesota Timberwolves  that didn’t matter. I can tell you for sure there was no way Kevin was rooting for us to win a championship with his former player.”
- Larry Bird on the Garnett trade: “I was shocked when I heard Danny got KG. I called McHale every year about him and he always told me he wouldn’t trade him.”
- Danny Ainge on a potential 2006 Allen Iverson  trade: “We would have done a deal for Iverson, but never for what they wanted. We have internal disputes about it to this day. My own guys will say, ‘You would have given up Al Jefferson for Allen Iverson.’ I wouldn’t have. Never.”
SPURS JUST GOT A LOT TOUGHER
Jermaine O’Neal isn’t the only veteran returning to the floor on Thursday night, when the Celtics visit the Spurs. While the C’s potentially faced a San Antonio lineup without Tony Parker , Manu Ginobili  and Tim Duncan , that hope is lost.
All three Spurs practiced on Wednesday, and all three could potentially play against the C’s, according to the San Antonio Express-News . Here’s the report:
[Spurs coach Gregg] Popovich opted to keep half his cards close to his chest, saying only Parker and Antonio McDyess  — who joined the Big Three in skipping Monday’s loss to Portland — would be available against Boston.
Duncan and Ginobili are day-to-day, to be re-evaluated sometime before tipoff, but all signals seem to point to a full roster for a game that has hit the city limits of ‘must-win’ in the Spurs’ chase for a No. 1 playoff seed.
YOU CAN WIN, EVEN IF CELTICS DON’T
Over the last couple off days, Celtics captain Paul Pierce has stepped up his Truth on Health campaign, planning a luxury suite giveaway and logging a post on his blog.
To benefit the charity closest to his heart, Pierce is raffling off 12 tickets in his personal luxury suite for the regular-season finale against the Knicks on April 13 in the TD Garden. Tickets are $2, and you must buy at least five of them here . The winner — who will also receive an autographed ball and $500 to spend — will be announced on April 11.
- On Kansas: I was crushed when the Jayhawks lost to VCU last week. Not only did it kill my bracket, but I also just couldn’t believe it. I gotta give it to the Rams though, they’ve been playing amazing ball. They’ve got heart, and Coach [Shaka] Smart is ‘¦ well … smart.”
- On Louisville : “Rick Pitino  really let me down when Louisville lost in the first round — just about ruined that whole side of my bracket. I had the Cardinals going to the Elite 8! Come on now Coach P., after all those laps I ran for you? Least you could’ve done is get to the Sweet 16  — but I can’t hate.”
- On college basketball : “When I was at KU, things were different. Not many guys went straight to the pros so early. Most of us stayed for three or four years before going on to the big time. That’s a big difference from today. Now, I can’t blame the guys for goin’ to the league when they get the chance, but a couple years in college definitely gives you the added preparation you need and gives your body the time to grow so you can withstand the long NBA season.”