By A. Sherrod Blakely
BOSTON There was an O'Neal in the starting lineup for the Boston Celtics - but not exactly the one most have grown accustomed to seeing.
Jermaine O'Neal, making his first start since returning to the lineup following left knee surgery, had a solid night in Boston 's 101-90 win over Detroit.
But it was the Celtics' other O'Neal, Shaquille, who generated the most interest during the game and afterward.
S. O'Neal returned to the lineup on Sunday after missing 27 games with an assortment of right leg injuries. His return didn't last long, as S. O'Neal suffered a right calf strain early in the second quarter.
S. O'Neal's track record for injuries this season has been a lengthy one.
J. O'Neal isn't much better, although he said he felt good after Sunday's game.
"It's just going to be about progression," J. O'Neal said. "Today was probably the first day I felt sore coming to a game."
While J. O'Neal's stats (five points, six rebounds in 18 minutes) don't exactly jump out at you, it was indeed another sign of improvement that he's getting closer to being the solid contributor he was just before undergoing surgery on his left knee in February.
Celtics coach Doc Rivers was pleased with what he saw from J. O'Neal whose minutes will continue to be limited.
But those limited minutes become tougher to keep in check when there are unexpected injuries.
That's exactly what happened in Sunday's win over Detroit.
"The problem was when Shaq went down, then we brought Jermaine in and he was at his minutes that I wanted to play him, literally coming out at halftime," Rivers said. "That's why I only played him four minutes (in the second half). It's killing your rotation. Any rotation right now that we even think about having, we're just throwing them out of the window because of stuff that's happened
One of the challenges J. O'Neal is dealing with is adjusting to the changes that Boston has made since he returned from left knee surgery.
Not only have some plays been modified, but the Celtics have several new faces that he now must get used to playing with with some regularity.
Even with all the changes and to some degree, uncertainty that comes with those changes, J. O'Neal has a solid spot in the Celtics' rotation moving forward if he can stay healthy.
So far, so good.
While there are many who are concerned about J. O'Neal having some type of setback following left knee surgery in Feb. 5, it's not something J. O'Neal said he is worried about or gives any thought to.
"I've never been concerned about the knee being sore and having set-backs," J. O'Neal said. "It's more about the body being sore with the banging and stuff like that."