O'Neals return Sunday, but Shaq leaves early

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O'Neals return Sunday, but Shaq leaves early

By A. Sherrod Blakely
CSNNE.com

BOSTON There was an O'Neal in the starting lineup for the Boston Celtics - but not exactly the one most have grown accustomed to seeing.

Jermaine O'Neal, making his first start since returning to the lineup following left knee surgery, had a solid night in Boston 's 101-90 win over Detroit.

But it was the Celtics' other O'Neal, Shaquille, who generated the most interest during the game and afterward.

S. O'Neal returned to the lineup on Sunday after missing 27 games with an assortment of right leg injuries. His return didn't last long, as S. O'Neal suffered a right calf strain early in the second quarter.

S. O'Neal's track record for injuries this season has been a lengthy one.

J. O'Neal isn't much better, although he said he felt good after Sunday's game.

"It's just going to be about progression," J. O'Neal said. "Today was probably the first day I felt sore coming to a game."

While J. O'Neal's stats (five points, six rebounds in 18 minutes) don't exactly jump out at you, it was indeed another sign of improvement that he's getting closer to being the solid contributor he was just before undergoing surgery on his left knee in February.

Celtics coach Doc Rivers was pleased with what he saw from J. O'Neal whose minutes will continue to be limited.

But those limited minutes become tougher to keep in check when there are unexpected injuries.

That's exactly what happened in Sunday's win over Detroit.

"The problem was when Shaq went down, then we brought Jermaine in and he was at his minutes that I wanted to play him, literally coming out at halftime," Rivers said. "That's why I only played him four minutes (in the second half). It's killing your rotation. Any rotation right now that we even think about having, we're just throwing them out of the window because of stuff that's happened
One of the challenges J. O'Neal is dealing with is adjusting to the changes that Boston has made since he returned from left knee surgery.

Not only have some plays been modified, but the Celtics have several new faces that he now must get used to playing with with some regularity.

Even with all the changes and to some degree, uncertainty that comes with those changes, J. O'Neal has a solid spot in the Celtics' rotation moving forward if he can stay healthy.

So far, so good.

While there are many who are concerned about J. O'Neal having some type of setback following left knee surgery in Feb. 5, it's not something J. O'Neal said he is worried about or gives any thought to.

"I've never been concerned about the knee being sore and having set-backs," J. O'Neal said. "It's more about the body being sore with the banging and stuff like that."

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

Bradley steps up to lead Celtics to 117-87 blowout win over Magic

Bradley steps up to lead Celtics to 117-87 blowout win over Magic

It was one of Tacoma, Washington’s finest carrying the scoring load most of Wednesday night for the Boston Celtics. 
 
But it wasn’t the Celtics’ leading scorer, Isaiah Thomas. 
 
It was his backcourt mate and fellow Tacoma, Wash. native Avery Bradley picking up the slack in Thomas’ absence as Boston pulled away in the second half for a 117-87 blowout win over the Orlando Magic. 
 
Wednesday’s victory was Boston’s first in Orlando since Nov. 8, 2013. 
 
Bradley led seven double-figure scorers for Boston (13-9), with a team-high 23 points.
 
Thomas missed his first game of the season with a right groin injury that will sideline him for a yet-to-be-determined period of time. 
 
The 5-foot-9 guard ranks among the NBA’s leaders in scoring (26.0) in addition to leading the Celtics in assists (6.2) per game. 
 
But Bradley was up to the challenge of filling the void left by Thomas, which isn’t all that surprising when you consider the game was away from the TD Garden. 
 
Bradley has been good this year, but has really stood out in road games where he has averaged 19.0 points on 51.4 percent shooting from the field compared to 15.8 points on 41.3 percent shooting at the TD Garden. 
 
The first half was a tightly contested game with neither team leading by more than eight points. 
 
After Orlando scored the first basket of the third quarter, the Celtics went on a furious 18-2 run to lead 67-54 which had five different scorers for Boston that spoke volumes about the balanced offensive attack the Celtics came with to make up for Thomas’ absence. 
 
Boston’s defense picked up its intensity in the second half, but just as important was the renewed emphasis on ball movement that was simple, crisp and highly effective. 
 
And it came against an Orlando team that came in having won four of its last five games – all on the road – which included beating the always-challenging San Antonio Spurs on their home floor. 
 
But as important as it was for Bradley to help fill the enormous scoring void that exists without Thomas, Boston also needed a strong game from their bench. 
 
That’s exactly what they got, and it wasn’t just one or two guys, either. 
 
Jaylen Brown had arguably the best game of his still-young NBA career coming off the Celtics bench, finishing with 13 points which included a powerful, rim-rattling dunk over Orlando’s Nikola Vucevic
 
Boston also got great play out of Terry Rozier (career-high 16 points, five rebounds) who saw a few more minutes than usual because of Thomas’ injury. 
 
Not only was the victory important to pad the win total, but it also provides a nice boost of confidence for the Celtics as they hit what will be arguably the most difficult stretch of the season in terms of quality opponents. 
 
The Celtics have 12 games remaining this month, with the teams having a combined record of 152-105, or a winning percentage of .591.

Halftime stars, studs and duds: Celtics-Magic close at the half

Halftime stars, studs and duds: Celtics-Magic close at the half

Playing without Isaiah Thomas for the first time this season, the Boston Celtics managed to keep the game relatively close with Orlando and went into the half trailing 50-49.
 
Orlando led for the entire first quarter, only for the Celtics to go ahead 28-27 behind a dunk by Jaylen Brown just 47 seconds into the second quarter. 
 
Neither team led by more than five points for the rest of the half. 
 
The Celtics were playing without Thomas (right groin) who leads the team in scoring (26.0) and assists (6.2) this season. 
 
Replacing him in the starting lineup was Marcus Smart who has five previous starts this season, but each came at the small forward position while Wednesday’s start came at the point.
 
One of the big concerns the Celtics had coming in was how they would hold their own against the Magic’s beefy, physical frontline that includes Serge Ibaka, Bismack Biyombo and Nikola Vucevic. 
 
At the half, the Celtics were in a 19-all tie on the boards and actually had a 10-7 advantage in second-chance points.
 
Here are the Stars, Studs and duds from the first half of Wednesday’s game.
 
 
STARS

 
D.J. Augustin

The Magic point guard got hot at the end of the second quarter, finishing the half with a pair of 3’s that were part of a 15-point first half.
 
Avery Bradley

With no Thomas, there was need for Bradley to step up and deliver more offensively. He led the Celtics with 12 first-half points on 4-for-8 shooting.
 

STUDS
 
Evan Fournier

His shot-making at the start of the game was a big key for the Magic, finishing with 10 first-half points (all in the first quarter) to go with four assists.
 
Marcus Smart

He’s not going to score like Isaiah Thomas, but Smart can knock down open looks when they come his way. He had nine points in first half on 3-for-4 shooting.
 

DUDS

Boston 3-point shooting

The Celtics were brutal from 3-point range in the first half, missing 13 of their 14 3-point attempts. Making matter worst, Orlando was a near-perfect 8-for-10 from 3-point range.