O'Neal's consistency helps keep C's afloat

53089.jpg

O'Neal's consistency helps keep C's afloat

By: Rich Levine
CSNNE.com

BOSTON When the Celtics signed Shaquille ONeal last summer, they did so with the expectation that there would be gameshowever few and far betweenlike last Wednesday, when ONeal tallied 25 points and 11 rebounds in a six-point win over the Nets.

Thats vintage Shaq, and it was fair to assume that there would be nights when hed re-surface, dominate the paint and post numbers comparable to his 24 and 11 career averages.

But as the team introduced the 38-year-old ONeal at that August press conference, never in their wildest dreams could they have imagined the player Bostons seen of late.

I didnt know, Doc Rivers said of his initial expectations for ONeal, who notched 16 points and nine rebounds in Fridays win over the Raptors. I honestly didnt know what to expect. Id love to tell you that I did, but I really didnt. I saw him last year, and there were games in Cleveland where he looked pretty good, but also games where he didnt. I didnt know. I knew we were getting size.

But so far this season, Shaqs been so much more. The size is there, of course. With ONeal the size is always there. But what hes brought so surprisingly this season is consistency. Hes been a guy who not only posts the periodically impressive stat line, but also the one who shows up every night, who gives the team quality minutes; hes a center who you can set your ridiculously oversized watch to.

The reason ONeals consistency is so shocking isnt a matter of effort, its a physical thing. At 38 years old, Shaqs body isnt as resilient as it used to be, and after missing a few games this pre-season with a bum hip, and then another five to start the regular season with an injured knee, it looked like it might be a long year for the Big Shamrock. But since returning to the starting line-up on November 11, ONeals reached double figures in six of eight games and has grabbed at least five boards and played at least 20 minutes every night.

Again, these arent press-stopping numbers, but the Celtics are getting them every single night, and considering the injuries and inexperience thats plagued the front line, that nightly contribution is invaluable.

Oh, wed be in trouble, Rivers said when asked where the Cs would be without Shaq this season, with (Jermaine ONeal) out and Semih (Erden) trying to figure things outwe cant forget that hes a rookie too, from another country.

Shaqs played his best ball over Bostons current three-game win streak, during which hes averaging 18 points and 10.3 rebounds a game. But for a man who, over his career, has earned the reputation as one of the least bashful, more bragadocious players in the game, ONeal has been quick to down play his recent success, and defer credit to his teammates.

Its not that Im carrying the load, ONeal said after Fridays win. Im playing with a lot of great guys. Its not all on me. When Paul comes to the hole, you have to pay attention, and Im just getting a lot of easy baskets. At 38, thats kind of how I want it. Im not trying to back down, take 30-40 shots, but when the guys give me my five to six to eight shotsthen I just have to finish. Every time."

But again, for Shaq to finish, he has to be on the court, and to be on the court, he has to be healthyand right now, he feels better than he has in sometime.

I felt good last year, then Big Baby chopped me down, and I had to relax for eight weeks. It was hard to do that. But Im on a mission," ONeal said. Im in shape, I live on a farm, no night life, no messing around. A lot of times when I was younger Id wear myself out with non-basketball activities. Being that I live an hour away from the fun, I just stay home and rest and watch TV.

But regardless of how great he feels, or how well he performs, dont expect Rivers to get carried away extending ONeals minutes. In fact, when the idea was brought up after the game, the coach couldnt have changed the subject any faster.

Im just gonna leave it alone, Rivers said. What happens happens.

But for now, whats happening is that Shaq is bringing his A game every night, and keeping the Celtics center position afloat as Jermaine ONeal and Kendrick Perkins work back from injury, and Semih Erden works on adjusting to life in the NBA. What's happening is that Shaq's focused on bringing another title to Boston. So much so that he's coined a new slogan:

18-25," O'Neal said of his quest for another title. "The city wants 18, Doc and them want 2, and I want 5. Every day when I think about what were trying to do, its 18-25."

Rich Levine can be reached at rlevine@comcastsportsnet.com. Follow Rich on Twitter at http:twitter.comrlevine33

Young getting on floor more for Celtics, including key fourth-quarter stints

Young getting on floor more for Celtics, including key fourth-quarter stints

SOUTHFIELD, Mich. – For most of his life, basketball has come easy to James Young.
 
So, the idea that in training camp he wasn’t just fighting to get playing time but also to stay in the NBA, was a jarring eye-opener.
 
To Young’s credit, he rose to the challenge and beat out R.J. Hunter for the Celtics' final roster spot.
 
And while Young’s playing time has been sporadic, he has done a much better job of maximizing his opportunities.
 
So, as the Celtics roll into Detroit to face the Pistons, Young finds himself playing his best basketball as a pro, good enough to make coach Brad Stevens not hesitate to put him in the game in the fourth quarter of a close matchup.
 
“It’s exciting to come back home,” Young, who grew up in nearby Rochester Hills, Mich., told CSNNE.com. “A lot of my family will be there. I’m not thinking about me. I’m just trying to do what I can to help the team.”
 
And lately, he’s getting an opportunity to do just that beyond being someone who helps in practice.
 
We saw that in the 107-97 loss at Toronto on Friday. Young came off the bench to play four minutes, 36 seconds in the fourth quarter with only two other Celtics reserves, Marcus Smart (8:39) and Jonas Jerebko (5:10) seeing more action down the stretch.
 
“It means a lot,” Young said. “He’s starting to trust me a little bit more. That’s a good thing. I’m just trying to do little things; rebound, get defensive stops and score when I get a chance.”
 
The fact that his scoring is just starting to take shape helps shed some light on why he has been buried so deep on the Celtics bench.
 
For his first couple seasons, Young seemed a hesitant shooter physically overwhelmed by opponents too strong for him to defend as well as too physical for him to limit their effectiveness.
 
But this season, he has done a better job at holding his own as a defender while making himself an available scoring option who can play off his teammates.
 
Young is averaging just 2.9 points per game this season, but he’s shooting a career-high 48.9 percent from the field and 41.7 percent on 3’s, which is also a career-high.
 
Getting on the floor more often has in many ways provided yet another boost of confidence to Young.
 
“I’m getting used to the flow of the game playing more consistently,” Young said. “I know what to do. It’s slowing up a little more and it’s getting easier.”
 

Blakely: Raptors newcomers show Celtics what they're missing

Blakely: Raptors newcomers show Celtics what they're missing

TORONTO – It’s far too soon to say if the Celtics’ decision to stand pat at the trade deadline was a mistake.
 
But the early returns aren’t encouraging.
 
Their 107-97 loss Friday night to the Toronto Raptors wasn’t because of Kyle Lowry (right wrist), who didn’t even play, or DeMar DeRozan, who played out his mind while scoring a career-high 43 points.
 
The game will be remembered by the new guys Serge Ibaka and P.J. Tucker, both acquired at the trade deadline by the Raptors.
 
Ibaka, who was a bad fit, and on most nights a bad player, in Orlando, looked like the O-K-C Ibaka while scoring 15 points to go with seven rebounds against the Celtics – numbers that were better than his two games combined against the Celtics this season with the Magic when he scored a total of just 12 points while grabbing eight rebounds.
 
And then there was Tucker, who got a crash video course on Raptors playbook just hours before the game, and proceeded to show the kind of toughness at both ends of the floor that has made him one of the league’s more underrated defenders as he finished with a near double-double of nine points and 10 rebounds.
 
It was their first game with their new team, but you would have thought they had been with Toronto all season long with how seamless they seemed to fit in.
 
Ibaka draining jumpers, Tucker causing chaos defensively, while absolutely crushing the Celtics on the boards...their play was a painful reminder of what could have been for the Green team.
 
Both were rumored to have been in the Celtics’ crosshairs prior to the Thursday 3 p.m. trade deadline. The Celtics were lukewarm at best on Ibaka (they didn’t want what would have been a 25-game rental) and just couldn’t quite strike a deal and cross the finish line for Tucker.
 
It’s too soon to hit the panic button and rip Danny Ainge for not getting a minor deal done like adding Tucker or Ibaka.
 
Still, his players have to embrace the truth behind what transpired this trade season.
 
Ainge went big-game hunting, focusing most of the team's efforts on landing a major difference-maker, a la Jimmy Butler or Paul George.
 
When that didn’t work out, he settled for the next best thing, which was to keep this group together.
 
The onus is now on them to prove that trust Ainge has in them, was well-placed.
 
Putting too much stock in the first game after the break is a risky proposition that no one should subscribe to.
 
But in the loss, it revealed many of the concerns and weaknesses of this roster that tend to get magnified in defeat while glossed over when they manage to win despite those flaws.
 
Isaiah Thomas may be the best scorer in the fourth quarter, but he’s human.
 
There will be games when Mr. Fourth Quarter can’t get it done.
 
Friday night was that kind of game for him. He scored just four of his team-high 20 points in the fourth.
 
And as the Raptors blitzed him repeatedly with two and three defenders, his teammates failed to step up when the opportunity was there to make impactful, game-altering plays down the stretch.
 
Watching the Celtics’ defense in the second half was painful.
 
DeRozan got whatever he wanted, when he wanted it.
 
And when he missed, the Raptors controlled the boards, got all the 50/50 balls and repeatedly out-worked Boston.
 
It exposed Boston in a way that’s painful to see, especially when those inflicting the greatest amount of damage could have been in the Celtics huddle and not the one on the other sideline.