Jermaine O’Neal  got the clearance to start his first game since early November and Rivers thought, with Shaquille O’Neal  coming back for the first time since early February, he would finally have some depth at the position that’s been – pardon the terrible pun – the team’s Achilles.
J-O played nearly seven of the 12 first-quarter minutes and was getting his feet wet in his third game back from a left knee scope. He finished with five points and six rebounds in 18 minutes. But it wasn’t until the shootaround Sunday evening that he felt confident enough to let Rivers know he was comfortable starting the game.
‘Felt good, felt good to be back, it’s just going to be about progression, [Sunday] was probably the first day felt sore coming to the game,” O’Neal said. “Didn’t even know I was going to start until the shoot around, but we got into the weight room, did some legs stuff. But that’s just part of the process. [Monday], I’ll get a practice in, get acquainted with the new system. They’ve changed some plays some I’m kind of learning on the fly and asking Rondo at the same time during the game, where I’m supposed to be.’
That general soreness and stiffness was not a concern to O’Neal since it had nothing to do with his left knee.
‘I’ve never been concerned about the knee being sore and having set backs,” O’Neal said. “It’s more about the body being sore with the banging and stuff like that. But I’ve passed all the tests that I’m supposed pass so I’m pretty excited about that.’
But then J-O’s role – and playing time – suddenly changed when his “brother” went down with 11:11 left in the second.
‘He seemed to be in good spirits when he left, and I think he may be out there on Tuesday, but we’ll see,” O’Neal said. “He was laughing and joking, I think it was more of a scare for the guys on the team and the fans of the Celtics. But, I think getting some practice time, cause he hasn’t had the ability to practice, it was kind of on the fly, he hasn’t been able to test it. And today he kind of tweaked it, hopefully for us we can get him back sooner because he got out to a great start today.’
Since early January, Rivers has said all along that he needs/wants at least one of the two O’Neals to be primed and ready for the playoffs if the team is going to reach its potential. Sunday was a good start – sort of. But with Shaq’s right calf strain, Jermaine played nearly 14 minutes in the first-half alone, after playing just
11 and 16 minutes in his first two games back, total.
‘It was good,” Rivers said of J-O. “The problem was when Shaq went down then we had to bring Jermaine, went in, and he was already at his minutes that I wanted to play him ‘ literally coming out at halftime. So, that’s why I only played him four minutes and then brought him in. It’s killing the rotations. Any rotations right now that we even think about having are just ‘ we’re just throwing them out of the window because stuff is happening.
“We have to have ‘ I kept saying ‘ one of the O’Neal brothers is important. And then Krstic is important. He has to be healthy. If we have that we do have size, but we have to have one ‘ I’ll take two ‘ but we have to have one of the O’Neal brothers.’