Shaq in vintage form as C's down Bobcats, 99-94

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Shaq in vintage form as C's down Bobcats, 99-94

By A. Sherrod Blakely
CSNNE.com

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."

A. Sherrod Blakely can be reached at sblakely@comcastsportsnet.com. Follow Sherrod on Twitter at http:twitter.comsherrodbcsn

Blakely: This could be the start of something big for Celtics

Blakely: This could be the start of something big for Celtics

BOSTON -- Prior to this year, the Celtics hadn't been to the Eastern Conference finals since 2012. That trip served as a curtain call of sorts for the last great C's dynasty.
 
But this one, which ended with Cleveland's emphatic 135-102 Game 5 victory Thursday at TD Garden, is very different.
 
Rather than closing another chapter in the Celtics' longstanding legacy of greatness, it could serve as the beginning of a new narrative in the franchise's steady growth.
 
"For us to be in the Eastern Conference finals after the first year of this team really being together, adding additions like Al Horford and Gerald Green . . . I can go down the list of guys that we needed to learn to play with, and for us to talk about where we wanted to be and actually make it, it's a big-time accomplishment," said Avery Bradley.
 
Boston has been among the younger teams in the NBA, with the 31-year-old Green being the oldest player on the roster.
 
But what the Celtics lacked in experience, they made up for with great effort.
 
"The great thing about this is the experience," Bradley said. "We were able to go to the Eastern Conference finals, learned a lot about being in this position, and I feel like it's going to help us for next year."
 
But as we all know, the Celtics will look to strengthen themsevles this offseason, which means there's a very good chance they'll have a different look when they gather again in the fall.
 
How different is anyone's guess.
 
"It's difficult every year whenever you don't have guys back," said coach Brad Stevens. "I think you share a bond (over the course of a season)."
 
Stevens and this group have been together for eight months. Eight months of struggles, successes, frustrating defeats and euphoric victories that brought them to the conference finals, which is where their season came to an end.
 
But as disappointed as the players and coaches are inow, there's definite excitement about this franchise in the very near future.
 
Boston has the No. 1 overall pick in next month's draft, with all indications -- for now -- pointing to Washington's Markelle Fultz as their choice.
 
And their top first-round pick from a year ago, Jaylen Brown, seemed to steadily improve as the season progressed. It was one of the few times in his life where minutes weren't just handed to him, which he admits was a learning experience unlike anything he had ever had, yet he adjusted and played better as the year went along.

"I've had ups, I've had downs, I've had opportunities, I've had mistakes," said Brown. "So I've been learning and growing and improving all year and I'm going to continue growing and improving and prove people wrong, prove doubters wrong."
 
Having the season end the way it did has indeed left a bad taste in the mouths of many Celtics.
 
"I can use it as fuel," Brown said, adding: "I want to get back to the same place I'm at now."
 
Bradley, who was on the 2012 team that lost to the Miami Heat in the conference finals, knows the Celtics are going to do whatever they feel is necessary to give them the best chance at competing for a title.
 
"It's out of our control as players," Bradley said. "We had a great year together. If guys are here, if guys aren't, we all wish the best for each other.

"But I do feel this is a special group. We all gave our heart every single night, played as hard as we could. I respect all my teammates, and I really appreciated playing with all the guys I had a chance to play with this year; a special group."