By A. Sherrod Blakely
BOSTON The Boston Celtics were minutes away from a blowout victory over the Utah Jazz.
Shaquille O'Neal was standing outside the Celtics locker room, having already taken off his uniform.
O'Neal is used to not being on the floor late in games, even when the C's are in tightly contested matchups which was not the case in Friday's 110-86 win over the Jazz.
But Friday night was different.
O'Neal couldn't even make it through the first half, as he left the game with what was originally believed to be a right leg injury. He had two points while playing just six minutes.
However, O'Neal is actually suffering from a sore right hip that will keep him out of Saturday night's game at Washington and possibly Tuesday's game against Cleveland.
"It just locked up on me," O'Neal told CSNNE.com. "I'll be all right. It's nothing to worry about."
O'Neal said he started to feel some pain in the right hip early in the game.
"We'll just have to see how long that will be," said Celtics coach Doc Rivers, who added that O'Neal informed him that he was feeling some pain shortly after tip-off on Friday.
"He actually walked over to me, and said, 'I don't know how long I can go. I'm feeling pretty bad,'" Rivers said.
Seeing O'Neal go down didn't raise a single eyebrow in the Celtics locker room.
Because guys going down has been about the only constant with the C's all season.
"On this team it's like a soap opera," said Kevin Garnett, who missed nine games this season with a muscle strain in his lower right leg. "You got to be ready on this team; you never know who is going to go down. Our biggest thing right now is injuries. We're just trying to weather the storm. You have to be ready when you're number is called."
If O'Neal doesn't play, look for rookie Semih Erden to make his fifth start of the season.
In his previous four starts, Erden has averaged 8.5 points and 3.3 rebounds while playing 24.5 minutes per game.
On Friday, Erden had a career-high 14 points in addition to grabbing seven rebounds.
"Semih's been good when he's had his number called," Celtics swingman Marquis Daniels told CSNNE.com. "That's just going to help him out in the long run; give him more playing time, more experience. You can't help but to get better when you get out there."
Added Garnett: "NBA games are tough man; it's not something you pick up in one or two days. It is a work in progress and he is doing a good job of it. He has come a long way. He plays against Shaq and all the bigs that he does, so he has no choice but to get better. He's starting to get some time to play, so that's a good thing."
Still, the Celtics know that they are a better team when they have the Big Shamrock manning the middle.
But when you look at the minutes he has played this season, and you look at who's up on their schedule (at Washington on Saturday, home against Cleveland on Tuesday), it wouldn't be a total shock if the Celtics opted to shut him down for both games.
After those two games, the Celtics begin a four-game West coast trip.
And with Jermaine O'Neal out for a month, any chance to rest O'Neal has to be given serious consideration.