When the curtain was parted at Madison Square Garden a large familiar face was on the court. Shaquille O’Neal was dressed in workout clothes with the rest of the Celtics. He won’t play in Game 3 Friday night and he’s doubtful for Game 4, but his presence was an indication that he is getting closer to returning to the lineup.
“He’s not ready to play yet,” Celtics coach Doc Rivers said. “But the fact that he’s feeling better and he’s getting closer, you just bring him on the road.”
Shaq talked briefly as he made his way off the court saying he’s “just trying to get back.”
Rivers maintains that the team isn’t holding him back for any other reason than he’s just not ready to play yet. “I’m worried about getting him right and healthy,” Rivers said. “There’s no strategic gameplan for not playing him. There’s a medical gameplan for not playing him. Once he can play he can play.”
Asked if the Shaq situation was becoming a distraction, Rivers said, “Our guys don’t care.”
As for the other O’Neal, Jermaine O’Neal injured his left wrist in Game 2 when he fell awkwardly after taking a charge. He wore a brace for the last two days to prevent any further damage, but said that the swelling had gone down and that he would probably play without the brace Friday night.
Rivers, who is headed to Duke, averaged 28.6 points, 5.9 rebounds and 2.0 assists per game for Winter Park (FL) High. The 6-foot-4 guard averaged 20.2 points per game in helping lead the USA 18-Under National team to a win at the FIBA Americas U19 World Championships.
Wake up with the Celtics and your daily dose of Irish Coffee …
After Wednesday’s hullabaloo over a report that the Celtics aren’t expecting Shaquille O’Neal back for the NBA Playoffs — which coach Doc Rivers refuted faster than Rajon Rondo ran a layup drill against Toney Douglas – I’m sure you’re all tired of hearing updates about Shaq.
But there’s a slightly new wrinkle to the Shaq drama.
Following Celtics practice on Wednesday, Rivers told reporters, “If you see him on the trip, that means he’s really close.” Well, in an appearance on Boston radio station KISS 108′s morning radio show Thursday morning, Shaq’s live-in girlfriend — Nicole “Hoopz” Alexander — admitted she and Shaq would indeed be traveling to New York on Thursday.
“Yes, he will be back,” Alexander said during the appearance. “I promise. He’s getting better. A few more days, but he’ll be back. Hopefully, the team can keep going with New York and keep finishing. … We’re going up [to New York] today, so we’ll see.”
Rivers ruled Shaq out for Game 3 on Friday but left the possibility for Sunday’s Game 4 on the table. Now, I’m not saying you should put a ton of stock in what “Hoopz” says, but it’s at least worth noting that the Big Shamrock is bound for the Big Apple on the same day the rest of his Celtics teammates will be traveling to New York City.
It’s becoming fairly obvious that if Carmelo Anthony doesn’t carry the Knicks, this series will be over in four hard-fought games.
The Knicks have two very banged up stars in Chauncey Billups and Amar’e Stoudemire, both of whom are very questionable for Friday’s Game 3 at Madison Square Garden as the Celtics lead the series, 2-0, and need just two more wins to advance to the Eastern Conference semis.
The thing is Anthony almost DID do it by himself in Game 2 Tuesday. He scored 42 points and grabbed 17 rebounds. But that wasn’t the first time a Knicks star put the team on his back and carried them.
All Knicks fans either remember – or have been reminded of – captain Willis Reed in Game 7 limping onto the court at Madison Square Garden, inspiring his team to a NBA title-clinching win over the Lakers in 1970.
But the more appropriate and obvious comparison is to No. 30 Bernard King.
The year was 1984. The Knicks were on the road at Joe Louis Arena for a decisive Game 5. They were underdogs and Isaiah Thomas was electrifying the crowd. But King didn’t flinch – even with the Detroit crowd going nuts.
He poured in 44 points to lead his team to an amazing 127-123 overtime win and a ticket to the Eastern Conference semis against the Celtics.
But what make Bernard King’s performance truly amazing was that it was the fourth straight game of at least 40 points, even with everyone in the world knowing he was getting the ball. Starting with back-to-back 46-point games in Games 2 and 3, King was the best player in the series. He followed that up with a mundane 41 points in Game 4 before lighting the board for 44 in Game 5. Take a trip down memory lane with Marv Albert and John Andraiese, both of whom are still broadcasting NBA games 27 years later.
In 1984, the Celtics were on a playoff run that ended with an electrifying win over the Lakers in Game 7 in the NBA finals. But Boston’s 15th NBA title nearly didn’t happen. King had 43 in New York’s Game 4 win at MSG and 44 more in Game 6 back in New York to force Game 7. The Celtics eventually survived the Knicks in seven fierce games. Sound familiar?
What was it like for Melo on Tuesday night, trying to do for his Knicks teammates what King did 27 years ago?
“It was fun, for the most part,” Anthony said. “We were out there fighting man. My teammates stuck with me, I had confidence in them. It was just a battle. It came down to a couple of plays down the stretch, but for the most part throughout the whole game I think we played fantastic.
“Defensively we did, offensively I kind of had it going tonight. I made other guys better, they felt confident out there when they got the ball to make something happen. KG hit a tough shot over Jared, contested shot. For the most part we played great tonight. We can’t hang our heads over something like this. We’ve got to take this and build on it going back home.”
And Anthony repeated his mantra of Game 1 that the Celtics didn’t do anything special in winning the first two games. They just held serve.
“There were some things when you look back you say ‘We could have done this, we could have done that, we could be up 2-0 if we did some things right,’” Anthony added. “For the most part, we are playing our [butts] off. We’re playing great. For some guys, this is their first time in the playoffs and for them to be stepping up to the plate like that, taking on the challenge against a championship team like the Celtics, we’re doing great. The Celtics didn’t do anything special, they won 2 games on their home court. Now it’s our turn to do the same thing.”
Wake up with the Celtics and your daily dose of Irish Coffee …
Shaquille O’Neal will be back. Shaquille O’Neal won’t be back.
Whether or not Shaq will return for the Celtics at any point during these NBA Playoffs is kinda like how I tell myself every morning that I’m definitely going to the gym — and then don’t. Ruled out for Games 1 and 2 with a right calf strain, Shaq remains listed as day-to-day on the injury report. Meanwhile, Celtics president Danny Ainge and coach Doc Rivers keep telling the media some version of, “He’ll be back; we just don’t know when.”
The Lawrence Eagle-Tribune’s Bill Burt cited an NBA source who believes Shaq is done for the season. Or does he? Here’s the exact phrasing from Burt’s story:
Shaquille O’Neal may have worn a Boston Celtics uniform for the last time.
In what would be a crippling blow to their chances of winning a title, the Celtics are going forward as if the affable center won’t be returning to team for the playoffs, according to an NBA source.
It means the other O’Neal — Jermaine, who has had knee problems since opening day, will be the go-to big man with Glen Davis and Nenad Krstic as his backups.
The Celtics came to this conclusion after Shaq failed to complete one simple sprint up and down the court during a “conditioning test” on Saturday, before he limped off the court in Waltham.
The Celtics held out a slim hope Shaq would be able to make his return in their Eastern Conference quarterfinal series against the Knicks or possibly in the conference semifinals, if they advanced.
“If he were to come back, it would have to be a miraculous recovery,” said the source, who requested anonymity. “And at his age (he turned 39 on March 6) and physical condition, the Celtics have planned accordingly.”
In the final seconds of close Celtics games over the last four years, you remember Ray Allen coming off screens and lord knows you remember the Paul Pierce isolations. But the Kevin Garnett hook shots? Not so much.
Less than a week ago, Jackie MacMullan wrote a piece that detailed Garnett’s lack of aggressiveness down the stretch of tight contests. Somewhere in the middle of it was this note: “In his time with the Celtics, KG has not attempted a single shot in the final 10 seconds of regulation or overtime in a playoff game.”
Well, scratch that off Garnett’s to-do list.
In Game 2 of their first-round series, the Celtics trailed the Knicks by one with 19 seconds remaining when Rajon Rondo inbounded to Garnett out of the timeout. The Celtics forward proceeded to back Jared Jeffries down on the dribble, turn to his left and toss in a hook shot in the paint. The basket gave the Celtics a 94-93 advantage with 13 seconds left.
“It was interesting,” said Ray Allen, who hit the game-winning bucket in Game 1. “The play wasn’t even for Kevin the way we ran it. Rondo threw it to him, and I’m glad he did, because that proves big for us going into the next game. Most of our plays have several different options on it, but it involved me, Paul [Pierce] and Kevin at some point. And he saw the matchup.”
You score 14 points in the first quarter, 18 in the first half and 30 for the game. You’re the point guard and your team just won a playoff game to go up 2-0 in a best-of-7 series. You’d think you’d be pretty pleased.
Not Rajon Rondo on Tuesday night and not the Celtics.
“We’re not happy with the win but obviously you’ll take any one you get in the playoffs,” Rondo said in his patented calm tone. “But we know we have a lot to improve on. There are so many areas.”
Like rebounding, where the Knicks beat the C’s, 53-37, including 20-9 on the offensive glass.
“They destroyed us on the glass,” he said. “Obviously, without Amar’e [Stoudemire], we had to help a lot, but we’ve got to crack back, and our guys have to do a better job of boxing out the bigs. As a team overall, we have to do a better job at rebounding the ball, that’s been our problem throughout the season. We escaped tonight, another one, but nevertheless, we got the win.”
But it wasn’t all bad. As a matter of fact in the first quarter, Rondo showed he was ready to take over the game, scoring 14 points, including 12 on lay-ups as the Celtics were getting out in transition at will against the Knicks thanks to Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce.
“I just thought, Kevin and Paul gave me great outlet passes and I tried to attack the rim,” Rondo said. “I think I tried to attack Game 1 but my layups were getting blocked and I didn’t make a couple. But tonight I made them, I stayed aggressive, I tried to expose them because I don’t think they did a great job getting back in transition. But they made an adjustment, in the second half I tried to go to my guys, Paul, Ray [Allen], and Kevin.”
The tempo was so fierce at one point of the first quarter, Rondo signaled to coach Doc Rivers that he needed a break. Who could blame him? He was running up and down the court at will thanks to the Knicks and their ole’ transition defense.
“I just got tired in the first quarter, at like three minutes, I think it was like 3:59 actually, because like I said I was trying to push the pace and I got a little winded,” Rondo said.
But Rondo made a point of saying he didn’t tire in the second half when the game was on the line. Rondo wound up playing 42 minutes, just three less than captain Pierce.
“I told Doc to give me a rest. As soon as I was ready I came back in to start the second quarter, but after that my wind was fine. D-West came in and gave me a little breather off the ball. I’m comfortable playing the minutes I’m playing. It was just that first session was like a track meet.”