Game Notes: Bobcats at Celtics
Shaq revisits his youth.
by Jay King / @CelticsTown
Before Friday night’s Celtics-Bobcats game, the Celtics listed Shaquille O’Neal as day-to-day. Yet no injury, illness or family issue held The Big Diesel back. The Green Mile’s availability was in question for another reason.
“Because he’s old as hell,” said Doc Rivers.
Old as hell, and on some days this season Shaq has looked every second of his 38 years. But not on Friday night in Boston. On Friday night, Shaq’s legs looked lighter and younger than they have all season.
Friday was one night when Shaq’s deteriorating body didn’t bother him. A night when age was nothing but a number. A night when Shaq could play 35 minutes, score 23 points, snatch 5 rebounds, shoot 10-12 from the field and – gasp – even drain all three of his free-throw attempts. A night when he caught one thunderous alley-oop, made a number of difficult post moves look easy, and even defended DJ Augustin (successfully, and for one possession) on the perimeter. A night when O’Neal’s Boston Celtics defeated the Charlotte Bobcats 99-94, and Shaq was a big (figuratively and literally) reason why.
“I knew that whatever happened I was going to be ready,” O’Neal said. “I’ve been in foul trouble and haven’t really played a lot of minutes, so there was really no excuse for me to be tired. I just came out and got a few more touches tonight, and just did what I do.”
Riddle me this: Can you say you’re “just doing what you do,” when you don’t normally do what you just did? That sentence is a bit of a maze, so I’ll put it into laymen’s terms: Shaq had scored 17 total points in his last three games, and snagged only 7 total rebounds. There was no reason, other than a trampoline bounce of faith, to believe Shaq would show such a youthful motor against Charlotte. No reason, that is, unless you ask Shaq.
“I live in Sudbury and the people at Sudbury Farms won’t allow me to eat junk food,” O’Neal said. “So I’m eating salad, eating fish. I’m really in shape and work out every night. I’m ready. I came here to be ready.”
With Kevin Garnett, Kendrick Perkins and Jermaine O’Neal all injured, and Semih Erden scooping up fouls like they were free samples, Shaq’s production proved essential. The Celtics won’t need him to play so many minutes every night (Shaq hadn’t played so many minutes since April 8, 2009, when he still played for the Phoenix Suns), but on certain nights Boston will rely on O’Neal to elicit memories of Superman’s past.
“We don’t go into the game thinking we’re going to get Shaq 15 shots and all that,” explained Rivers. “We go into the game allowing the game to happen with him. And if it happens where we can get him big, we try to.”
Still, Shaq’s minutes might have been too many. After all, and I’m repeating myself, he’s 38 years old.
“Shaq wants to play, but he doesn’t want to play 35 minutes,” said Rivers. But on a night when Jermaine O’Neal spoke for more than 15 minutes about his will he or won’t he knee surgery, the Celtics needed every second of Shaq’s floor time.
Said Rivers, “They went small, and we did a great job of not forcing it to him but letting it come to him, in the flow, and not hurting our offense. It was a good job. I thought Rondo was sensational.”
Ah, yes. Rondo. If Shaq’s performance surprised, Rondo’s 18 points and 13 assists represented – for him – a ho-hum, barely above-average night. But Rivers loved what his “quarterback” provided.
“There were a couple things he saw that I didn’t see, and I liked what he saw better,” acknowledged Rivers. “And we went with his.
“Those are the good nights for a coach, I can tell you that, when those nights happen. It’s just the flow of the game; sometimes guys get that and sometimes they don’t. But when he gets it, it’s really good because we can establish a pace. I told him at halftime, our pace was horrible. And the second half it was great.”
Of course, Rondo provided a lot more than pace. The young point guard makes things easy for his oldest teammate. With Rondo at the helm, Shaq’s job normally consists of the following: see ball, catch ball, finish layup or dunk. On Friday Shaq also wheeled and dealed a few times in the low post (or posted and toasted, if you’re looking to get even more Walt “Clyde” Frazier-y), but for the most part Rondo simplifies Shaq’s role.
“I think we’ve always had chemistry,” Rondo said about his on-court relationship with Shaq. “He was just open tonight. It seemed like he was open every time I went to the hole. Either Kwame [Brown] or Nazr [Mohammed] stepped up, and you can’t miss him.”
On days like this, when Shaq plays like an All-Star, does it lighten Rondo’s load?
“It doesn’t have an effect on me,” Rondo said, “but it has an effect on my team. We have a dominant presence who’s going to get us in the bonus early. He’s drawing fouls, he’s making his free-throws – it’s just a good flow for us. When we slow the pace down and throw it in the post to Shaq, it slows the tempo down. We usually play up-tempo, but when he has it going we just go through him.”
Shaq doesn’t get it going every night, not like he used to. Remember, he’s old as hell. But on the nights when Shaq’s legs feel bouncy, the nights when that salad and fish diet from Sudbury Farms pays off, the nights when Kwame Brown and Nazr Mohammed provide a little too much help on Rajon Rondo, Shaq offers glimpses into his storied past.
As I drove home from the TD Garden last night, I wondered how I’d end this piece. But as I examined my options, Lupe Fiasco’s song “Never Forget You” came on my radio. John Legend provided the chorus, and Fiasco’s lyrics discussed never forgetting anything that happened in his youth. He spoke of a past that’s all around us, and a future that’s so bright.
“These are shades of my youth,” Fiasco rhymed. “Trials of a child, everything truth. Moments of the past, coming back to find us.
“Not to relive them. Just to remind us.”