BOSTON -- One of the benefits of having a 7-foot-1, 325-pound big man on a roster is the fact that he has big shoulders.
On Wednesday night, Shaquille ONeal used them to carry the Boston Celtics to victory over the Detroit Pistons.
The whole team was flat, he said. I just had to pick it up.
ONeal didnt like what he saw as the watched his team struggle against their 15-win opponents. After beating the Orlando Magic two nights earlier, he knew they were not playing up to their potential.
In a game with 13 ties and 12 lead changes, ONeal wanted the Celtics to put the Pistons away. When he checked back in with just over eight minutes to go, he made sure that happened.
We just try to go out and do whatever coach Doc Rivers asks, he said. I just tried to get every rebound, try to hustle, diving on the floor, just trying to get everybody going.
Over a span of five-and-a-half minutes, ONeal gave the Celtics the spark they needed to pull away with an 86-82 win.
He began with an alley-oop from Rajon Rondo and followed that with a layup 40 seconds later. He then picked off two steals and converted on a three-point play (a game-tying free throw, as a matter of fact), while grabbing three rebounds along the way.
By the time ONeal returned to the bench with 1:28 to go, the Celtics had erased an eight-point deficit and reclaimed momentum.
ONeal finished the night with 12 points and a season-high 12 rebounds.
I thought Shaq was the difference in the game with his energy, said Rivers. Forget his size and all that -- his size and energy. I thought Shaq was he won the game for us tonight. He did all the little things -- crashed the glass, was physical, blocked shots. He was absolutely wonderful tonight.
At 38 years old, ONeal was not run down by this kind of hustle. He played 25 minutes and felt energized on the floor.
Im in excellent shape, he said. Im only playing 19, 20 minutes a game. I could do that with my eyes closed. There really is no excuse for me to be tired. Im not really tired. Doc does a great job of managing my minutes. But we were down 10 and I just felt like I had to do something -- dive on the floor, knock people around, get the crowd involved, and I think that helped a little bit.
In spite of the win, ONeal is still critical of himself and his team. Thats how players constantly improve, after all. He is bothered that he missed two free throws in the fourth quarter -- But keep in mind, when we really, really, really need them, Ill be there and you wont have to worry about it. Studies show, he said -- and would like to see the Celtics come out swinging regardless of who they are playing.
We knew that we were out there messing around, not helping too much, not focused, he said. Its kind of hard getting up for teams like that. But if you want to win the whole thing, you have to get up for every game. We have to realize that teams are going to come in here and play way above their heads, and we have to be ready for that.
Fortunately for the Celtics, ONeal was prepared for victory when it counted.
It was a slow game, it was an ugly game, he said. I just wanted to do my part and try to get us close to where we would be able to win.
Jessica Camerato is on Twitter athttp:twitter.comjcameratoNBA