J. O'Neal is showing the Celtics what he can do


J. O'Neal is showing the Celtics what he can do

By A.Sherrod Blakely

CHICAGO Inside the mind of Boston Celtics big man Jermaine O'Neal, you'll find images of confetti streaming down from high atop the ceiling.

There are people, lots of them. The only thing that might be in greater numbers, are the tears shed by O'Neal.

They are tears of joy because all the long, painful hours he put in trying to recover from a potential season-ending knee injury, have paid off as he helped the Celtics bring home Banner 18.

It's all in his head -- for now.

But such imagery from O'Neal isn't all that surprising when you consider the six-time All-Star is also a movie producer with his most recent project, "Inheritance," slated to be released some time this year.

Nearing the end of his basketball career, O'Neal tells CSNNE.com that this is something that he will explore even more so when he's done playing.

For now, he's more focused on helping produce an NBA championship.

And the road map to making that happen includes several weeks spent here in Chicago with training guru Tim Grover as part of his recovery from left knee surgery in February.

"It was basically like training camp, with two-a-days for like three weeks," O'Neal told CSNNE.com, adding that Sunday was the only day he took off during those weeks.

There's little doubt that since O'Neal returned to the Celtics, he looks more like the guy that started 72 games last year for the Miami Heat, than the injury-riddled player Celtics fans had seen pre-left knee surgery.

His numbers in the four games since his return won't wow you -- 4.8 points, 2.8 rebounds in 14.5 minutes per game.

But there's no mistaking the 6-foot-11 center has made an impact in the one area the Celtics have been sorely lacking since trading away Kendrick Perkins on Feb. 24 -- interior defense.

Boston has ranked among the NBA's leaders in scoring defense all season, and is currently tops in the NBA by giving up just 90.8 points per game.

In the last four games -- three Celtics wins -- that number has dropped to 89.3 points per game. O'Neal has started the last two games, and the Celtics have given up just 86 points per game.

Now that can't all be attributed to the return of O'Neal. But having him back certainly hasn't hurt.

Coach Doc Rivers has been singing the praises of O'Neal ever since he returned to the lineup.

He was especially pleased with the way O'Neal played in Boston's 99-82 win over Philadelphia on Tuesday.

O'Neal had nine points, three rebounds and a blocked shot in just under 13 minutes.

"JO was terrific," Rivers said. "You know, he was aggressive, he was attacking, his defense was phenomenal. He's just been really good since he's been back; just buys in; we rarely go to him but he gets the ball in the right places because he's in the right spots. Defensively he's been very good."

Glen Davis is also among the Celtics glad to see O'Neal back on the floor.

"Having Jermaine makes it easier for all of us," Glen Davis told CSNNE.com. "He gives us another guy with size, around the basket, who can defend. It helps you at both ends of the floor, really."

Because of his added post presence, the Celtics can now get out in transition more following a defensive stop.

He's even had moments since returning when he has been able to out-run his defender up court and finish around the basket.

You hardly saw that at all before the injury. Part of that was because he wasn't healthy.

O'Neal admitted that there were also some trust issues as well.

"Because I wasn't healthy, the guys really didn't know what I could do to help offensively," he told CSNNE.com. "So when I came back, it was just a matter of showing them, showing Doc that I was back, that they could go to me if they wanted to and I would come through. We never really had a chance to establish that the way I would have wanted to, before the surgery."

O'Neal understands that he will never be a No. 1, 2 or even 3 option with this team.

That's okay.

Simply being part of a squad that's playing for something bigger than a paycheck, he says, is all he wants now.

And while this isn't his first time being part of a title contender, he admits it's more special because of the timing.

"Opportunities before," O'Neal said, "it was like how many opportunities am I going to have? That was the thought process. But now, there's no guarantee I'm going to play after next year," he said. "There's no guarantee we're going to play at all next year, as a league. You have to value these opportunities, because they are not a given."

When O'Neal entered the league straight from high school, he was part of a talented Portland team that included former Celtic Rasheed Wallace.

Although he didn't play much early on, those teams routinely made it deep into the playoffs.

And after he was traded to Indiana, the Pacers soon made deep playoff runs an expectation when former Celtic great Larry Bird was the head coach.

But those times are in the past now.

Those teams, that success, that Jermaine O'Neal . . . nothing but memories now.

He's looking to create some new ones now.

And they all center around one thing: Banner 18.

"I get emotional about it because I know that feeling; that feeling . . . you want that feeling," O'Neal said. "You want to go through that. God willing, I'll get that opportunity because I may not get that opportunity again if I don't get it this year."

And that, O'Neal said, would be the perfect storybook ending to his playing career a story that just might be at movie theater near you someday.

"You never know," said O'Neal, smiling. "You never know."

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

Celtics nearly blow fourth quarter lead, hold on to beat Nets, 122-117


Celtics nearly blow fourth quarter lead, hold on to beat Nets, 122-117

BOSTON –  The Boston Celtics are not used to being the hunted, or holding a comfortable lead over teams they should beat easily.

That inexperience nearly cost them their season opener against Brooklyn which rallied back from a 23-point deficit to within a field goal of tying the game in the final seconds of play.

But the Celtics managed to hold on for a 122-117 win.

For most of the game, it went according to the script many would have expected to see played out on the TD Garden floor.

Brooklyn put up a good fight, Boston got it together in the second half and the game is over.

Not so fast, says the Nets.

Head coach Brad Stevens tried to rest his starters in the fourth, but the Celtics’ second unit simply didn’t get it done as they nearly squandered a commanding fourth quarter lead.

It was somewhat fitting that they were on the floor to finish off the pesky Nets considering they were the main reasons why Brooklyn was in such a deep fourth quarter hole.

With the win, the Celtics are now 44-27 all-time in season openers and 32-13 at home.

Making the win even sweeter was the fact that because it was so decisive, it allowed head coach Brad Stevens to rest most of his core players who will return to the floor Thursday night to play the Chicago Bulls.

Celtics all-star guard Isaiah Thomas was in double-double range most of the second half before finishing with 25 points, nine assists and six rebounds.

Boston also got a strong night from Jae Crowder who had 21 points on 9-for-15 shooting to go with four rebounds and two assists.

And while the numbers weren’t all that impressive, Al Horford delivered the kind of performance that speaks to his ability to impact the game positively for Boston in a multitude of ways.

He finished with 11 points on 5-for-8 shooting to go with five rebounds and six assists in just 25 minutes of action.

Depth was a strength of the Boston Celtics last season, and it seems to be an even bigger weapon for them now.

Celtics head coach Brad Stevens went 10-deep in the first half with each Celtic who stepped on the floor in the first two quarters scoring at least two points.

The Nets came in as heavy underdogs, a team that many anticipate will be among the worst in the NBA this season.

“We can’t worry about that stuff,” Brooklyn’s Trevor Booker told CSNNE.com prior to Wednesday’s game. “The big thing for us is to go out and compete, give ourselves a chance to be successful.”

Brooklyn did just that for most of the Wednesday’s game, but Boston’s talent and depth proved to be too much.

Crowder got things poppin’ at the start of the game by making his first four shots from the field.

But the Nets didn’t buckle, but instead got a multitude of players chipping in with a bucket here or defensive stop there to keep the game from getting out of hand.

Brooklyn’s Jeremy Lin, a former star at nearby Harvard, was among the Nets players keeping the game relatively close. He finished with 18 points.

But the second half was once again dominated early on by Crowder who scored in a variety of ways which included stealing an in-bounds pass and banking in a mid-range jumper in the third quarter.

That play was part of a 26-16 run by Boston to close out the third quarter which ended with the Celtics ahead 97-81.

Brooklyn continued to play scrappy basketball in the fourth, but the Celtics had built up too big a cushion for the Nets to present any kind of real threat to Boston’s control.

Halftime stars, studs and duds: Celtics in control, but Nets within striking distance


Halftime stars, studs and duds: Celtics in control, but Nets within striking distance

BOSTON – The Boston Celtics were in control most of the first half, but the Brooklyn Nets managed to stay within striking distance most of the first half which ended with the Celtics ahead, 64-58.

It was a high-scoring first half, the kind that one of the league’s top defenses shouldn’t experience.

But it is the first game of the season and the Celtics clearly have some kinks defensively to work out.

The Celtics led by as many as 13 points in the first half with contributions coming from several players in the starting unit as well as off the bench.

Boston has spent a good chunk of the preseason preaching the importance of good ball movement.

It was indeed on full display as Boston had 19 assists in the first half on 23 made baskets.

As for the Nets, Bogan Bogdanovic kept Brooklyn within striking distance most of the first half as he tallied 10 points through the first two quarters of play. Brooklyn also got a nice lift from Justin Hamilton who had 14 first-half points off the Brooklyn bench.

Here are our halftime Stars, Studs and Duds



Isaiah Thomas

Thomas was a more assertive player in the second quarter and it paid off for the him and the Celtics. He finished the half with a team-high 11 points in addition to doling out a game-high seven assists.

Jae Crowder

Boston displayed some crisp ball movement in the first half, and Crowder seemed to benefit from this more than any other Celtic. Through two quarters of play, Crowder has a team-high 10 points which included him making his first four shots from the floor.



Sean Kilpatrick

The Nets only have five players on their roster from last season’s disastrous 21-win club, and Kilpatrick showed why he’s one of the few holdovers. At the half, he had nine points off the bench to go with three rebounds.



Brook Lopez

He’s supposed to be the Nets’ best player, but you would not have known this by his play in the first half, The 7-foot Lopez was a non-factor through the first two quarters of lay, missing four of his five field goal attempts to go into the half with just three points.