O'Neal has a lot to prove

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O'Neal has a lot to prove

TORONTO Jermaine O'Neal has received plenty of accolades during his 15 seasons in the NBA.

If Boston Celtics coach Doc Rivers had his way, he would add one more to the list.

"If we had an MVP trophy - maybe we should have one - for camp, I think he would win it," Rivers said. "He's been phenomenal throughout camp. He's been absolutely wonderful."

The Celtics will need O'Neal to have a much better season than the one he had last year, a season in which O'Neal's health either kept him sidelined or limited him when he did play. A rigorous offseason conditioning program has O'Neal, 33, in the kind of shape you wouldn't expect for a player nearing the end of his career. That work is critical to both his play and the success of the Celtics this season, with O'Neal being the team's only true center.

During the summer, O'Neal spent some time in Las Vegas at the Impact Basketball Competitive Series. It was an opportunity for some of the league's up-and-coming talent to get a chance to workout and play against NBA-caliber competition during the lockout.

On most nights, O'Neal was the oldest player there.

"You don't see players my age out here, do you? When this lockout ends, I plan to be in the best shape I can be, so that I can hit the ground running and help my teammates the best way I can," he told CSNNE.com. "I want to be able to do more, a lot more, than I did last year. I'm a better player, a much better player, than I showed last year."

While it's too soon to tell if that's true, there's no question that O'Neal's health isn't nearly as problematic as it was a year ago when he appeared in a career-low 24 games. Rivers said he's also shown a better understanding of what his role will be with the team.

"Number one, he has really bought in defensively," Rivers said. "He knows where to be all the time."

He's also a better communicator with his teammates defensively, something Rivers admits was a problem at times with the team's centers before and after the C's traded away Kendrick Perkins to Oklahoma City.

"Now he's become a talker," Rivers said. "That's one of the things, Kevin (Garnett) and Perk and Baby (Glen Davis) and all those guys had, Jermaine was new to it. We didn't have that a lot last year."

Rivers added, "Jermaine was learning it, and you heard Shaq talk before so no one could understand what the hell he was saying, the mumble. So it's good that Jermaine got it, is getting it."

Jermaine O'Neal understood that the Celtics needed him to provide a defensive presence at all times.

But he is a five-time NBA all-star, who came to the Celtics last season averaging at least 13 points per game in each of the previous 10 years he has been in the NBA.

However, O'Neal averaged just 5.4 points while playing 18 minutes a game - the least productive O'Neal has been statistically since the 1999-2000 season in Portland when he averaged 3.9 points in 12.3 minutes per game.

"I can still score a little," he quipped. "But it's really a matter of my teammates getting more comfortable with me, and me with this system. I think you'll see me more involved offensively this year."

Rivers agrees.

"Offensively he just knows where to be now," Rivers said.

In the team's intra-squad scrimmage, O'Neal showed the ability to run the floor and finish in transition by establishing himself in the post quickly. His face-the-basket fade-away jumper was working as well. And around the glass, he was able to keep a number of possessions alive not to mention he was the only Celtics player in the scrimmage to draw an offensive foul.

It was the kind of performance O'Neal hopes to deliver often for the Celtics - or any title contender - this season.

O'Neal was part of a potential three-team trade between Boston, Dallas and New Orleans that would have sent David West to Boston (he signed with the Indiana Pacers instead) and would have sent O'Neal to the Mavericks.

The potential trade, O'Neal said, was never something he was overly worried about. His focus was about proving his worth to the C's in training camp.

"It's just been fun," O'Neal said. "It's been calm. I was a little nervous last year, coming into a situation where I knew this city is looking to win a championship. You want to battle for your spot, and end up getting hurt. It was tough, but this year was more about being calm. Even when the trade came up. I wanted to figure out where I was going, if I was going somewhere."

The C's seem content on keeping O'Neal around for now.

Based on his MVP-like play thus far in camp, that's understandable.

Celtics' team plane receives bomb threat

Celtics' team plane receives bomb threat

BOSTON -- There was a bomb threat to the Boston Celtics’ team plane to Oklahoma City on Saturday afternoon, but no one was injured.

The incident will be investigated by NBA security which will work in conjunction with the FBI on this matter which was one of several hoaxes called into airports across the country on Saturday.

News of the bomb threat was first known when Celtics forward Jae Crowder posted an Instagram photo showing players departing the plane with the caption, “BOMB THREAT ON US”.

Celtics officials declined to comment on the matter and instead referred all bomb threat-related questions to the league office.

Messages to the league office were not immediately returned.

Celtics' ball movement among NBA's best, with or without Thomas

Celtics' ball movement among NBA's best, with or without Thomas

BOSTON – When it comes to winning basketball, keep it moving – the ball that is – has become a staple of the Celtics this season. 
 
And lately they’ve had to do it without Isaiah Thomas, the team’s leading scorer at 26 points per game as well as their top assists guy (6.2) who will miss hish third game in a row Sunday in Oklahoma City because of a right groin injury.
 
The Celtics have split their first two games without Thomas, with the most recent being a 101-94 home loss to Toronto on Friday.
 
When it comes to this team and ball movement, fans are just as divided when it pertains to whether the Celtics move the ball better without the high-scoring Thomas in the lineup. 
 
Regardless of what fans think they know about this team and how they move the ball, the numbers paint a very clear picture that this team’s ball movement is among the best in the NBA, with or without Thomas in the lineup. 

And that will be important on Sunday against an Oklahoma City team that doesn’t rely on the ball swinging from one side of the floor to the other, nearly as much as the Celtics. 
 
The Thunder, led by MVP candidate Russell Westbrook, are dead-last in the NBA when it comes to passes made per game (267.1). 
 
Meanwhile, the Celtics are at the opposite end of the passing game spectrum, averaging 331.7 passes per game, which is second in the NBA (Philadelphia, 354.3).
 
And in the two games without Thomas, Boston has averaged 347.0 passes per game, which ranks second in the NBA in that period of time. 
 
In addition to missing his points and assists, the Celtics must also find ways to make plays in filling the void left by a player who has the ball in his hands a lot of the time. 
 
Thomas’ usage percentage (percentage of plays used by a player while he’s on the floor) of 32.9 percent ranks seventh in the NBA, ahead of notable stars such as San Antonio’s Kawhi Leonard (30.9 percent), Portland’s Damian Lillard (30.8 percent), New York’s Carmelo Anthony (29.5 percent), as well as Cleveland’s LeBron James (29 percent) and Golden State’s back-to-back NBA MVP Stephen Curry (28.2 percent).
 
So, considering how involved Thomas has been in the team’s offense, it shouldn’t come as a surprise that the numbers in terms of passing and ball movement are better without him than they are when he’s on the floor playing. 
 
What should be surprising is that the gap statistically without him, isn’t greater. 
 
Boston has been a top five team when it comes to assists this season, currently third in the league with 24.7 assists per game. In the past two games without Thomas, the Celtics’ assists numbers have risen to 26.5 per game, but that only ranks fifth in the league in that span.
 
When it comes to potential assists and secondary assists (a.k.a. the “hockey” assist), Boston’s numbers have improved slightly without Thomas as well, but in each category Boston is ranked second in the league. 
 
And that ranking is with, and without Thomas in the lineup. 
 
While it’s not clear if Thomas knows just how close the numbers in terms of ball movement are with and without him playing, he is acutely aware that there are some who believe they are a better team in terms of keeping the ball moving without him.
 
“I can’t control that,” Thomas told reporters on Friday. “At this point, I laugh about it. I know what I mean to my teammates. I know what I mean to this organization, to Brad Stevens.”