O'Neal accepts defensive role


O'Neal accepts defensive role

BOSTON Jermaine O'Neal was not in a good mood following Monday night's loss to Oklahoma City.

It wasn't just because of the game's outcome which extended the Boston Celtics' losing streak to five in a row.

The play of O'Neal has come under fire lately, with a number of NBA pundits pointing out how the 33-year-old's game has fallen off considerably - especially when it comes to scoring.

So following Monday's loss, O'Neal fired back.

O'Neal spent the majority of his post-game spiel explaining that what he's doing - and not doing - in Boston has more to do with his role than what some believe are diminishing skills.

"With me here, Doc (Rivers) has given his role," said O'Neal, who tallied his first double-double of the season with 12 points and 11 rebounds. "So all the debate about whether I score, if I score people wondering about me scoring, that's not my role. My role has been given to me. My role has been said to be a defender and not offensively."

So when it comes to measuring his play, O'Neal is emphatic that it be on what he does defensively.

"Judge me on how I get out on the pick-and-roll and help the guards," he said. "Judge me on how I step up on penetration. This debate about my scoring it's not my position right now. If I'm not rebounding. If I'm not taking charges, then we got a conversation to have."

O'Neal, like most of this aging squad, has been up and down with his play at both ends of the court. While he has been solid as a rebounder and a defender of late, he too had some problems at the start of the season rotating late at times defensively, and not providing the kind of rebounding presence the Celtics need from their starting center.

"I think Jermaine is no different than any of our other players," Danny Ainge, Boston's president of basketball operations, told CSNNE.com. "He wants to play better, and we need him to play better for us to be a good team. I think all of our players understand that."

Although O'Neal spent most of the summer working out and conditioning his body for the rigors of this season, he too has been slow to play at a consistent level.

"I'm starting to get my legs back as far as rebounding; getting my timing," O'Neal said. "That's my concern."

Celtics head coach Doc Rivers has repeatedly said that O'Neal needs to provide a defensive presence and rebound, in order to help the Celtics.

As far as his scoring, Rivers isn't overly concerned with that aspect of his game. Still, there are things he can do to help both his scoring opportunities as well as those for his teammates.

O'Neal rolled hard to the basket against the Thunder, which was one of the reasons he tallied a season-high 12 points.

"That's one of the things we've been working with him - instead of rolling to that short, little jump shot he's rolling to the basket now," Rivers said. "And that opens up either him or a guard."

And while it was refreshing for O'Neal to have a breakout-type game scoring, he understands that limiting points - not scoring them - is the best way he can help the Celtics.

"It's a little different than I'm used to, but I accept that role with open arms," O'Neal said. "Whatever it is, I accept that."

Marcus Smart will get start for Celtics for injured Isaiah Thomas

Marcus Smart will get start for Celtics for injured Isaiah Thomas

As expected, Marcus Smart will get the start for the Boston Celtics tonight against the Orlando Magic in place of the injured Isaiah Thomas. 

Thomas, who leads the Celtics (12-9) in scoring (26.0) and assists (6.2) this season, suffered a right groin injury in Boston’s 107-106 loss at Houston on Monday.

Head coach Brad Stevens explained his decision a few minutes ago.

“He’s started a lot of games here in the past as a point guard,” Stevens told reporters. “He’s basically our sixth starter. It wasn’t one that I had to think a ton about.”

Starting Smart also allows second-year guard Terry Rozier to continue in his role coming off the bench. 

Whether he’s starting or coming off the bench, Smart’s production has been consistent. 

In the five games he has started this season, he has averaged 10.0 points, 4.2 rebounds and 4.0 assists per game. 

His numbers off the bench are almost identical with Smart averaging 9.6 points, 4.0 rebounds and 3.9 assists as a reserve. 

Stevens also mentioned that Amir Johnson would be back in the starting lineup in place of Jonas Jerebko. Earlier in the day, Stevens told reporters the decision to start Jerebko on Monday was strictly because of the matchup with Houston. 

“We have to be able to be flexible in doing that,” Stevens said. “Houston plays four guards. We didn’t feel like we could defend them unless we switch one through four. I thought he (Jerebko) did a pretty good job. This (Orlando) team is different than Houston other than both are super-hot.”

Orlando (10-12) has won four of its last five games in part because of its size, strength and versatility along the frontline which includes Serge Ibaka, Bismack Biyombo and Nikola Vucevic who now comes off the bench. 

And while the Celtics have benefited heavily from the play of their guards, obviously that plan will be amended tonight with Thomas out. 

“He (Thomas) generates a lot in the open offense what we call flow, spread offense,” Stevens said. “So some of those type of things you may not generate at the same rate. But certainly there are other ways that we’ll look to play when he’s not in the game normally, or when we’re trying to play through bigs in the post. You have different ways to play within all your schemes. Hopefully we can play to each other’s strengths and go from there.”