By A. Sherrod Blakely
BOSTON Every now and then, Shaquille O'Neal reminds us all that not so long ago, he was the baddest - that's bad meaning good - basketball player on the planet.
The Charlotte Bobcats got a taste of that O'Neal Friday night, as the future Hall of Famer helped the Celtics pull away for a 99-94 win.
Before the game, Celtics coach Doc Rivers was asked about why O'Neal, who isn't nursing any particular injury at the moment, was still viewed in his eyes, as day-to-day.
"Because he's old as hell," Rivers said. "He's 38 years old. Everyday, you never know with Shaq. But we knew that. He is going to have days where his body is going to bother him."
Friday night was not one of those times, as O'Neal led the C's with 23 points on 10-for-12 shooting. The 23 points scored were more than he had tallied in Boston's three previous games combined, and just two short of his season-high.
When reminded about his pre-game comment about O'Neal being "old as hell," Rivers said, "Maybe I'm going to keep doing that."
O'Neal, the oldest player in the NBA, had no problem with Rivers' comments.
In fact, he agreed with him.
Regardless of his age, O'Neal still has the ability to deliver from time to time, the kind of performance that established him as one of the greatest centers to ever play in the NBA.
And his timing could not have been any better, with the Celtics' depth at center taking a major hit this season.
The season began with starting center Kendrick Perkins on the inactive list after he tore ligaments in his right knee in Game 6 of the NBA Finals last June. He is expected to see his first action of the season later this month.
Jermaine O'Neal, recruited to be Perkins' replacement, has a left knee injury that might require surgery. Jermaine O'Neal told reporters on Friday night that he will make a decision early next week as to whether he will have surgery now, or at a later time.
Rookie center Semih Erden played on Friday, but he's dealing with a sore groin injury.
Shaquille O'Neal was well aware of the injuries to his teammates, but that had no impact on his approach to Friday's game.
"If I get the touches and get the calls most of the time, the outcome is going to be like that," he said. "It's not really my role here. So I'm here to do whatever Doc asks me to do."
More than anything else, the C's needed O'Neal to be a presence offensively and defensively.
While his game-high 23 points certainly caught the attention of most, O'Neal also tallied a season-high five blocked shots.
His ability to block shots was fueled in part by his ability to avoid early foul trouble, which has been a major factor in his inability to score this season.
"You know a lot of times I get fouls helping out," O'Neal said. "I (had) to be selective. There were a couple of lay-ups I knew I had to let go. I was just trying to play smart."
Rivers echoed O'Neal's comments.
The same could be said for Ray Allen, who continues to deliver a much-needed offensive punch for the Celtics (30-9).
Allen tallied 19 points which included 4-for-6 from 3-point range. Allen needs another 31 made 3-pointers to become the NBA's all-time leader in that category ahead of Indiana Pacers great Reggie Miller.
"We had a defensive scheme and it was really working for us, but it broke down in the end," said Bobcats coach and former Celtic, Paul Silas. "Ray Allen got two wide open looks that he shouldn't have gotten."
It seems like it has been like that all season for Allen.
Many of Allen's baskets were set up by Rajon Rondo, who flirted with a triple-double before finishing with 18 points, 13 assists and six rebounds.
Even with Allen's impressive long-range shooting and Rondo turning in a Rondo-esque performance, this game was all about Shaq who despite being "old as hell," can still deliver when called upon.
"He was just open tonight," Rondo said. "It seemed like he was open every time I went to the hole. Either Kwame (Brown) or Nazr (Mohammed) stepped up. You can't miss him."