A day of Shaq sights and sounds


A day of Shaq sights and sounds

By Jessica Camerato

WALTHAM - Delonte West stepped down off a stool as he finished addressing a pack of reporters. Suddenly, there was a scurry to move the stool out of the way. Shaquille O'Neal was due up next, and reaching a microphone or recorder up to the big man would be nearly impossible if he weren't given a few more inches.

O'Neal's presence was felt in more ways than one on Celtics Media Day. Whether he was drawing an overflowing crowd during an interview or attracting a group of onlookers while he posed for photos, Number 36 was the number one topic of conversation.

Following Doc's Orders: MVP awards, All-Star selections, statistical accomplishments . . . O'Neal has amassed so many personal achievements that they aren't the reason why he plays basketball any more. He signed with the Celtics to help them win a title, whatever the role entails.

"Whatever Doc needs me to do, that's what I'm going to do," O'Neal said. "You know, when I first came in, my first 17 years were all about me and scoring, and now that that part of my game is over, now it's time for me to be a damn good role player. So whatever Doc and the city of Boston needs me to do, that's what I'm going to do."

It's Not About Kobe: When Kobe Bryant captured his fifth NBA championship with a Game Seven win over the Celtics in June, he proclaimed, "I just got one more than Shaq." O'Neal heard the comment . . . he just isn't focusing on it during his quest for number five.

"Yeah, I heard it," he said. "My whole career I've been the measuring stick for excellence, so I'm glad to see I'm still relevant. But I would've been more upset, more hurt if Tim Duncan would've made the comment. I don't compete with guards. They have the ball more than I do, they shoot way more than I do, you can't compete with guards. I'm only competing with Tim Duncan, so hopefully I can get number five before Tim Duncan gets it, respectfully competing with Tim Duncan."

Light on his feet: ONeal has laid off hamburgers, fried chicken, macaroni, and cornbread to stay in shape this summer. He clocks in at 345 pounds, a weight he plans on maintaining throughout the season. His teammates have noticed how well he is moving on the court.

"We've played in a couple pickup games," said Paul Pierce. "He looks good, just him getting up and down the court. In one pickup game, he got three fast-break layups. You don't really hardly hear about Shaq getting fast-break layups. But he's looked good. I think he's looked better than I guess people anticipated. A lot of people say he comes and gets in shape in camp, but he looks really good in the pickup games we've playing the last couple of weeks."
A Voice of Experience: West played with O'Neal last season on the Cavaliers and looks forward to sharing a locker room with him again. He describes watching O'Neal interact with the Celtics' Big Three as "unreal" and believes the entire team can learn from him in his 19th season.

"Just playing with him for the time I did in Cleveland, this guy has so much to offer, so much knowledge, the young guys hanging on to his every word," said West. "At the end of the day, in my opinion, he's still one of the top 10 players to ever do it. There's a lot of knowledge there. He's won championships and for some reason we still have this opinion in our minds, we still hope he goes out and scores 50 and has 25 rebounds and breaks five backboards in one game. He just wants to win and we talk about it all the time. We did all last year. He just wants to help win and do what he does to help the team win."

Added Danny Ainge, "Shaq obviously has a great deal of cache in our locker room because of what he's accomplished in his career . . . Shaq's been around a long time and I think he wants to win as bad as anybody, so I have a great deal of confidence that he'll be a positive influence in our locker room."

Comfortable in Green: O'Neal admits he never pictured himself wearing a Celtics uniform early in his career. But now that he's slipped on the white and green jersey, he likes the way it looks.

"I never really envisioned myself being here as a young guy, but sitting back this summer I made a very important decision to come to a team that was rich in the tradition of winning," he explained. "I watched the guys last year, especially when they beat us the Cavaliers, and I've been a fan of the Big Three and how they've been playing a long time. I figured this is a place I want to spend my last 735 days."

O'Neal added, "For me, I've always been a smart businessman and always been a guy to take advantage of opportunities. So it was an opportunity for me to come here and play with some great guys and hopefully we can get it done. Because I know if we get it done, I'll be, I think, the first guy to win with three different teams. I like making history, so hopefully it happens."

Jessica Camerato is on Twitter at http:twitter.comjcamerato

Celtics' ball movement among NBA's best, with or without Thomas

Celtics' ball movement among NBA's best, with or without Thomas

BOSTON – When it comes to winning basketball, keep it moving – the ball that is – has become a staple of the Celtics this season. 
And lately they’ve had to do it without Isaiah Thomas, the team’s leading scorer at 26 points per game as well as their top assists guy (6.2) who will miss hish third game in a row Sunday in Oklahoma City because of a right groin injury.
The Celtics have split their first two games without Thomas, with the most recent being a 101-94 home loss to Toronto on Friday.
When it comes to this team and ball movement, fans are just as divided when it pertains to whether the Celtics move the ball better without the high-scoring Thomas in the lineup. 
Regardless of what fans think they know about this team and how they move the ball, the numbers paint a very clear picture that this team’s ball movement is among the best in the NBA, with or without Thomas in the lineup. 

And that will be important on Sunday against an Oklahoma City team that doesn’t rely on the ball swinging from one side of the floor to the other, nearly as much as the Celtics. 
The Thunder, led by MVP candidate Russell Westbrook, are dead-last in the NBA when it comes to passes made per game (267.1). 
Meanwhile, the Celtics are at the opposite end of the passing game spectrum, averaging 331.7 passes per game, which is second in the NBA (Philadelphia, 354.3).
And in the two games without Thomas, Boston has averaged 347.0 passes per game, which ranks second in the NBA in that period of time. 
In addition to missing his points and assists, the Celtics must also find ways to make plays in filling the void left by a player who has the ball in his hands a lot of the time. 
Thomas’ usage percentage (percentage of plays used by a player while he’s on the floor) of 32.9 percent ranks seventh in the NBA, ahead of notable stars such as San Antonio’s Kawhi Leonard (30.9 percent), Portland’s Damian Lillard (30.8 percent), New York’s Carmelo Anthony (29.5 percent), as well as Cleveland’s LeBron James (29 percent) and Golden State’s back-to-back NBA MVP Stephen Curry (28.2 percent).
So, considering how involved Thomas has been in the team’s offense, it shouldn’t come as a surprise that the numbers in terms of passing and ball movement are better without him than they are when he’s on the floor playing. 
What should be surprising is that the gap statistically without him, isn’t greater. 
Boston has been a top five team when it comes to assists this season, currently third in the league with 24.7 assists per game. In the past two games without Thomas, the Celtics’ assists numbers have risen to 26.5 per game, but that only ranks fifth in the league in that span.
When it comes to potential assists and secondary assists (a.k.a. the “hockey” assist), Boston’s numbers have improved slightly without Thomas as well, but in each category Boston is ranked second in the league. 
And that ranking is with, and without Thomas in the lineup. 
While it’s not clear if Thomas knows just how close the numbers in terms of ball movement are with and without him playing, he is acutely aware that there are some who believe they are a better team in terms of keeping the ball moving without him.
“I can’t control that,” Thomas told reporters on Friday. “At this point, I laugh about it. I know what I mean to my teammates. I know what I mean to this organization, to Brad Stevens.”

Isaiah Thomas won't make trip to Oklahoma City for Sunday game

Isaiah Thomas won't make trip to Oklahoma City for Sunday game

BOSTON – Facing Oklahoma City Thunder star Russell Westbrook with a fully healthy squad is tough. 
Doing so without your leading scorer makes the challenge all that much greater. 
That is where the Celtics find themselves heading into Sunday night’s game against the Thunder without Isaiah Thomas, who did not travel with the team when they left for Oklahoma City today. 
Boston’s leading scorer this season with 26 points per game, Thomas suffered a right groin injury against Houston on Dec. 5 and has missed the Celtics’ past two games because of it. 
He was hoping to convince Celtics president of basketball operations Danny Ainge to let him travel with the team, but Thomas acknowledged convincing Ainge was a long shot. 
“He’s not really in favor of me going,” Thomas told reporters on Friday. “I’m trying to convince them to let me go. If I’m there, they know I’m going to try and play. I’m shooting for Wednesday [at San Antonio] for the most part. That’s more realistic than Sunday. Hopefully I can play on Wednesday.”
Boston has split the two games with Thomas out, beating the you-know-what out of Orlando 117-87 on the road, but dropping one at home 101-94 to Toronto on Friday night. 
As disappointed as Thomas is with not being able to play – it’s the first games he has missed since the 2014-2015 season – he understands the potential problems that could surface with an injury like this if he and the Celtics aren’t careful. 
“They keep wanting to be very patient with this,” Thomas said. “They don’t want to re-injure it. It is an injury that can get re-injured and be a problem the rest of the season. I don’t want that. On top of that, it gives me time to heal all the other injuries I have.”
Among the other injuries Thomas was referring to, is a still-swollen finger on his left (shooting) hand. 
The injury was believed to have happened on Nov. 12 against Indiana. 
While it was painfully sore, it didn’t seem to be an issue in Boston’s next game against New Orleans when he scored a season-high 37 points. He followed that up with a 30-point performance in a 90-83 win over Dallas.