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

Horford believes Celtics give him best chance at 'ultimate goal' of NBA Championship

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Horford believes Celtics give him best chance at 'ultimate goal' of NBA Championship

WALTHAM, Mass. -- Pinpointing the exact moment Al Horford made up his mind to become a Boston Celtics isn’t clear, but the seeds of that decision can be traced back to last year’s playoffs – and no we’re not talking about the playoff series between Boston and Atlanta, either.
 
It was the Hawk’s second-round playoff series back in May against Cleveland, a team that swept them out of the Conference finals in 2015 and did so again last about five months ago.
 
Horford had every intention of returning to Atlanta, but as the free agency period wore on two things became quite clear: Winning an NBA title would have to go through Cleveland and it happening with him in Atlanta was becoming more and more unlikely.
 
In came the Celtics with a pitch that was heavy on present-day and down-the-road potential that wouldn’t require him to do anything other than continue to play the way he has for the past nine seasons.
 
“It (becoming a Celtic) became real for me real late and real quick,” Horford told CSNNE.com on Wednesday.
 
After mulling it over for a couple days, Horford said he was ready to become a Celtic.
 
“This could be a great opportunity even though I’m leaving a lot behind,” Horford said.
 
As you listen to Horford speak, it’s clear that the Celtics mystique played a role in his decision to sign with Boston.

 But as much as the Celtics’ lore and its on-the-rise status helped, there were certain events that Boston had no control over that actually helped their cause.
 
First the Hawks got in on a three-team trade in June with Utah and Indiana which sent Hawks All-Star point guard Jeff Teague to the Pacers while Atlanta received Utah’s first-round pick which was 12th overall and was used by Atlanta to select Baylor’s Taurean Prince. The move allowed Atlanta’s Dennis Schroeder to slide over into the now-vacant starting point guard position.
 
While it may help Atlanta down the road, it did little to move them closer towards knocking off Cleveland anytime soon.
 
And then there was the Hawks coming to terms on a three-year, $70.5 million deal with Dwight Howard early in the free agency period. That deal coupled with Atlanta’s desire to bring Kent Bazemore back, cast serious doubt as to whether Horford would return.
 
Horford, who inked a four-year, $113 million deal with Boston, told CSNNE.com that at the time of Atlanta’s deal with Howard, he was still open to the idea of returning.
 
But if Horford did, he knew figuring out the best way to play him, Howard and Paul Millsap who by the way has a player option that he’s likely to exercise which would make him a free agent next summer, was not going to be easy.

“It was definitely going to be different,” Horford said, then adding, “For me, the Celtics were becoming more and more a realistic option. After talking with my family, we felt this was the best for me.”
 
And while it’s still very early in his tenure as a Celtic, Horford has no regrets or second thoughts about his decision.
 
“As a player you always want to be in the best position you can,” Horford said. “I felt for me being on this team would put me in a position to be able to contend and win an NBA championship. That’s my ultimate goal.”
 
And that alone makes him a good fit with this franchise which from ownership to the front office to the coaching staff and of course the players, are all focused on one thing and that’s bringing home Banner 18.
 
 “Look at the resume. He’s been a winner wherever he’s played,” said Boston’s Amir Johnson. “It’s good to have a guy like that, with his talent and with his winning, playing next to you.”