WALTHAM — Shaquille O’Neal  hasn’t played since that fateful six-minute stint against the Pistons on April 3 at TD Garden.
When he left the floor, hobbling badly on his strained right calf, no one knew when ‘ or if ‘ the future Hall of Fame center would make his Celtics  playoff debut.
Well, it appears O’Neal will indeed join the playoff party for the Celtics on Saturday night for Game 3 against Miami ‘ and not a minute too soon. After he was hardly missed in the Celtics’ four-game dispatch of the Knicks in the first round, his void has been huge in the second round as Miami has muscled its way to two straight wins.
Doc Rivers  spoke Thursday about how badly he wants to see his team “go through bodies” and be “forceful” with the Heat  to get back in this series.
Hello, Shaq. But Rivers is keeping his expectations in line and not getting his hopes anywhere near up as it pertains to O’Neal. Why? Because Shaq has played exactly five minutes, 29 seconds in one game dating back to Feb. 1. In that 5:29, O’Neal was certainly promising as an inside force, hitting all three shots from the field and grabbing a rebound and, most importantly, establishing an unmistakable inside presence for the Celtics.
But Rivers truly doesn’t know if he can expect that Saturday.
“I have no idea, I really don’t,” he said. “And I don’t say it to be funny, I just don’t, but I know he’s going to be big, I know that.”
Will Shaq’s mere presence in the paint be a deterrent for the Heat and a “force” for the Celtics?
“He’ll be big at the end of the day,” Rivers added. “We’ll find that out. I can’t give that answer.”