Shaq shines in rare crunch-time appearance

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Shaq shines in rare crunch-time appearance

By Jessica Camerato
CSNNE.com

BOSTON - The usual plan had been working -- start the game with Shaquille O'Neal and finish it with Glen Davis.

But Wednesday's matchup against the Philadelphia 76ers was anything but usual, and Doc Rivers had to deviate from his normal strategy.

The Celtics found themselves down 72-68 with just over five minutes to go in the game. They had scored just four points in the fourth quarter and needed a spark if they were going to fend off the feisty Sixers.

So Rivers turned to the bench and called for a starter. He wanted O'Neal to help take back the game.

"Nothing else was working," Rivers said following the Celtics 84-80 win. "As a coach sometimes you just try and mix it up. I thought Shaq had a great energy tonight. I thought he was disruptive in the paint."

With O'Neal back on the court, the Celtics attacked the basket and took advantage of the Sixers' lack of depth in the paint. O'Neal drew a foul on Tony Battie and hit both free throws to cut the deficit to two points.

"He was huge for us when we needed him," said Kevin Garnett. "Usually he's not in there during that course of the time of the game. But he was big for us. He got us into the bonus."

O'Neal then nabbed four rebounds before drawing the sixth and final foul on Elton Brand.

Even though O'Neal missed his final free throws, he had taken away the Sixers' strongest weapon. Brand was Philly's top scorer and best defensive player (16 points, 12 rebounds).

All the while, he spread the floor for the Celtics and helped his teammates get open looks. The C's went on a 16-8 run during O'Neals five-minute stretch.

"When you've got Shaq in there it's a luxury because he's like a black hole, he sucks everything in," said Garnett. "He gets Ray Allen, Paul Pierce, perimeter guys, even myself, open shots that normally we wouldn't get to have. So he's a luxury."

Rivers' decision to change things up paid off, as the Celtics closed out the game with a victory. Twelve of their 20 fourth-quarter points came at the free-throw line.

"I thought they really struggled with him in pick-and-rolls with Paul," said Rivers. "And I thought if with Baby (Glen Davis), they may switch. With Paul, he could pull it, Shaq could go down the middle. If Shaq didn't have dunks, somebody else would get open.

"So that's what went into the decision that worked out today. And that's good."
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Isaiah Thomas' recent shooting woes mirror those of Celtics

Isaiah Thomas' recent shooting woes mirror those of Celtics

BOSTON – As Isaiah Thomas walked off the TD Garden floor Monday night in the fourth quarter of the Celtics' 114-98 loss to the Atlanta Hawks, the All-Star guard’s franchise streak of 43 games with 20 or more points scored was about to end.
 
Credit the Hawks, whose defense made life miserable for Thomas most of the game, limiting him to 4-for-21 shooting (19 percent) which stands as the worst shooting night for Thomas as Celtic when he has taken at least 10 shots from the field.
 
Thomas chalks up his struggles Monday as just one of those bad nights that comes from time to time in an 82-game season, but it’s part of what has been a stretch of inefficient shooting games for him.
 
And it’s not a coincidence that the Celtics (38-22) have lost three of their past four at the same time Thomas finds himself in one of his worst four-game stretches for shooting the ball this season.
 
In fact, Thomas has shot just 35.4 percent from the field in Boston’s past four games. In that span, he has made less than 45 percent of his shots in each game, which is only the second time this season he has had a four-game stretch like that.
 
And while defenses certainly give him more attention than any other Celtic, he’s still getting to the spots he wants to get to while taking the shots that are best for him.
 
The only difference of late, is that more shots are off the mark than previously.
 
“I missed a lot of shots in the paint. I got where I wanted to,” Thomas said. “That wasn’t just me; that was our team. We missed a lot of shots we normally make.”
 
Which is why there’s no sense of panic or heightened concern on the part of the Celtics heading into their game Wednesday night against the defending NBA champion Cleveland Cavaliers.
 
Boston rookie Jaylen Brown was quick to credit Atlanta for doing a good job defensively against the Celtics.
 
But he too recognized that at times they were their own worst enemy with all of the blown opportunities.
 
“We missed a bunch of easy shots and I think that is just focus,” Brown said. “We’re not going to hit every shot every game, but I do expect us to play a little bit better than what we did and I think we’re more capable of being a bit more locked in. It happens; you just got to forget about it and bounce back Wednesday against Cleveland.”