By A. Sherrod Blakely
NEW YORK And now for the latest installment of, 'As the Shaquille O'Neal injury drama turns,' a team official told CSNNE.com that O'Neal will in fact travel with the team to New York.
Celtics coach Doc Rivers said earlier that O'Neal was definitely out for Game 3 of Boston's first-round playoff series on Friday. However, O'Neal being with the team means that there is at least some thought to him possibly suiting up for Game 4 on Sunday.
"He's had some improvement, but I don't know how much," Rivers said on Wednesday. "If you see him on the trip, he's really close."
Prior to the team departing for New York Thursday afternoon, O'Neal was expected to do some work to see if his injury had improved enough to where it would be worthwhile to bring him to New York.
Rivers told CSNNE.com following Wednesday's film session that O'Neal was being fitted for some equipment that could ease some of the pain upon his return, a signal that the C's are very much anticipating him returning to the lineup soon.
"Obviously, if he goes on the trip we think he might play that Sunday, but we're not sure."
O'Neal has not played since April 1 against Detroit.
After missing the previous 27 games, O'Neal played less than six minutes against the Pistons before the right leg injury flared up once again.
Celtics physician Dr. Brian McKeon said that the three muscles in the triceps surae complex of his right leg are all sore.
"This is a tough injury," said Dr. McKeon. "The blood supply in this area is so weak and so poor it needs time. I was telling Danny (Ainge, the C's president of basketball operations) and the coaches, in the last 20 years of medicine this is one area we have made no progress. It's just time. It's hard to get enough healing potential in that area."
Not having O'Neal is nothing new for the Celtics.
The future Hall of Famer has played in a career-low 37 games this season.
While there are some who believe the Celtics have just been overly cautious with O'Neal, Rivers is quick to say that the reason O'Neal isn't playing is because he simply isn't healthy enough to go.
"He'll come back when he's ready to come back, and not a moment sooner," Rivers told CSNNE.com.
Based on the way their first-round series with the Knicks has gone, there doesn't seem to be an overwhelming sense of urgency to bring O'Neal back.
The C's have had their problems rebounding, and having O'Neal back would certainly help in that area.
That's why Game 3 on Friday is so pivotal not only for the teams, but it may impact how soon O'Neal returns.
If the Celtics win Game 3 and take a 3-0 lead, Boston might be less inclined to bring him back in a decisive Game 4 and instead be more focused on having him ready to go in the next round with the opponent most likely being the Miami Heat.
Rivers isn't thinking that far ahead.
"I just want to get through the next game," Rivers said. "And after that, the game after that. The game at hand, that's the only game that counts."