O'Neal's consistency helps keep C's afloat

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O'Neal's consistency helps keep C's afloat

By: Rich Levine
CSNNE.com

BOSTON When the Celtics signed Shaquille ONeal last summer, they did so with the expectation that there would be gameshowever few and far betweenlike last Wednesday, when ONeal tallied 25 points and 11 rebounds in a six-point win over the Nets.

Thats vintage Shaq, and it was fair to assume that there would be nights when hed re-surface, dominate the paint and post numbers comparable to his 24 and 11 career averages.

But as the team introduced the 38-year-old ONeal at that August press conference, never in their wildest dreams could they have imagined the player Bostons seen of late.

I didnt know, Doc Rivers said of his initial expectations for ONeal, who notched 16 points and nine rebounds in Fridays win over the Raptors. I honestly didnt know what to expect. Id love to tell you that I did, but I really didnt. I saw him last year, and there were games in Cleveland where he looked pretty good, but also games where he didnt. I didnt know. I knew we were getting size.

But so far this season, Shaqs been so much more. The size is there, of course. With ONeal the size is always there. But what hes brought so surprisingly this season is consistency. Hes been a guy who not only posts the periodically impressive stat line, but also the one who shows up every night, who gives the team quality minutes; hes a center who you can set your ridiculously oversized watch to.

The reason ONeals consistency is so shocking isnt a matter of effort, its a physical thing. At 38 years old, Shaqs body isnt as resilient as it used to be, and after missing a few games this pre-season with a bum hip, and then another five to start the regular season with an injured knee, it looked like it might be a long year for the Big Shamrock. But since returning to the starting line-up on November 11, ONeals reached double figures in six of eight games and has grabbed at least five boards and played at least 20 minutes every night.

Again, these arent press-stopping numbers, but the Celtics are getting them every single night, and considering the injuries and inexperience thats plagued the front line, that nightly contribution is invaluable.

Oh, wed be in trouble, Rivers said when asked where the Cs would be without Shaq this season, with (Jermaine ONeal) out and Semih (Erden) trying to figure things outwe cant forget that hes a rookie too, from another country.

Shaqs played his best ball over Bostons current three-game win streak, during which hes averaging 18 points and 10.3 rebounds a game. But for a man who, over his career, has earned the reputation as one of the least bashful, more bragadocious players in the game, ONeal has been quick to down play his recent success, and defer credit to his teammates.

Its not that Im carrying the load, ONeal said after Fridays win. Im playing with a lot of great guys. Its not all on me. When Paul comes to the hole, you have to pay attention, and Im just getting a lot of easy baskets. At 38, thats kind of how I want it. Im not trying to back down, take 30-40 shots, but when the guys give me my five to six to eight shotsthen I just have to finish. Every time."

But again, for Shaq to finish, he has to be on the court, and to be on the court, he has to be healthyand right now, he feels better than he has in sometime.

I felt good last year, then Big Baby chopped me down, and I had to relax for eight weeks. It was hard to do that. But Im on a mission," ONeal said. Im in shape, I live on a farm, no night life, no messing around. A lot of times when I was younger Id wear myself out with non-basketball activities. Being that I live an hour away from the fun, I just stay home and rest and watch TV.

But regardless of how great he feels, or how well he performs, dont expect Rivers to get carried away extending ONeals minutes. In fact, when the idea was brought up after the game, the coach couldnt have changed the subject any faster.

Im just gonna leave it alone, Rivers said. What happens happens.

But for now, whats happening is that Shaq is bringing his A game every night, and keeping the Celtics center position afloat as Jermaine ONeal and Kendrick Perkins work back from injury, and Semih Erden works on adjusting to life in the NBA. What's happening is that Shaq's focused on bringing another title to Boston. So much so that he's coined a new slogan:

18-25," O'Neal said of his quest for another title. "The city wants 18, Doc and them want 2, and I want 5. Every day when I think about what were trying to do, its 18-25."

Rich Levine can be reached at rlevine@comcastsportsnet.com. Follow Rich on Twitter at http:twitter.comrlevine33

Blakely: Thomas isn't a starter, but new All-Star voting is an improvement

Blakely: Thomas isn't a starter, but new All-Star voting is an improvement

BOSTON – There’s certainly some disappointment among Celtics Nation that Isaiah Thomas just missed out on being an All-Star starter in the East.

But one thing we can certainly see with the new voting system … it works way better than the old way of choosing starters.

This was the first year that the NBA decided to allow current NBA players as well as a select panel of media choose who the starting five in the Eastern and Western Conferences would be.

The fan vote would count for 50 percent while media and players would each represent 25 percent of the final tally.

From there, the players would receive a fan ranking, a media ranking and a player ranking.

Because of the aforementioned breakdown – fans count for 50 percent while media and players represent 25 percent of the vote – the fan ranking would be counted twice while the media and player rankings would be counted once.

Let’s look at Isaiah Thomas’ situation which ultimately came down to him and Toronto’s DeMar DeRozan for the final starting spot in the backcourt.

Thomas was fourth in the fan voting, second in the player voting and first among guards in the media voting. So when you add the fan voting (4 *2) + player voting (2 *1) + media voting (1*1), you get a total of 11 which is then divided by 4 to arrive at a score of 2.75.

Now let’s look at DeRozan.

He was third in the fan voting, third in the player ranking and second in the media voting among guards. So his score when you add the fan voting (3*2) + player voting (3*1) + media voting (2*1), you get a total of 11 which when divided by 4 brings you to a score of 2.75 – same as Thomas.

The tiebreaker was the fan vote which meant DeRozan and not Thomas, would get the starting nod in next month’s All-Star game.

As much as it may suck that Thomas lost out because of this system, he would not have had a shot at being a starter under the old system in which the fans were the ones to pick starters.

In fact, it would have been Chicago’s Dwyane Wade in the starting lineup under the old system.

No disrespect to D-Wade, but he has not had an All-Star worthy season. And had the old system been in place, he would be an all-star and thus take up a roster spot of another player who frankly, is more deserving.

And if you take a glance out West, they too would have had a starter who has not had an All-Star caliber season.

Golden State’s Zaza Pachulia finished second in the voting among Western Conference forwards, fueled in large part to his home country, Georgia, voting early and often for him. Because of the media and player voting, Pachulia wound up sixth among Western Conference big men which is still too high when you consider some of the players behind him – Memphis’ Marc Gasol, Minnesota’s Karl-Anthony Towns, San Antonio’s LaMarcus Aldridge and Los Angeles Clippers’ DeAndre Jordan – who are all having better seasons.

While no one would say this new system is perfect, considering how this year’s voting would have panned out under the old rules, this change by the league is a good one that should stick around.

NOTE: I was among the media panelists selected by the NBA to vote for this year’s All-Star starters. My selections in the East were Cleveland’s LeBron James, Kevin Love and Milwaukee’s Giannis Antetokounmpo in the frontcourt with Cleveland’s Kyrie Irving and Boston’s Isaiah Thomas in the backcourt. My Western Conference selections were Kevin Durant of Golden State, Anthony Davis of New Orleans and Kawhi Leonard of San Antonio in the frontcourt, with Houston’s James Harden and Oklahoma City’s Russell Westbrook in the backcourt.