By A.Sherrod Blakely
WALTHAM There was a Shaquille O'Neal sighting at the Boston Celtics' practice facility on Thursday.
Whether we see him in Game One of the C's first-round playoff series with the New York Knicks, remains to be seen.
"If you ask Shaq, he'll tell you he's going to give it a go on Sunday," Danny Ainge, Boston's president of basketball operations, told CSNNE.com. "But I honestly don't know. It's hard to put an expectation on whether he will go or not go at this point. We'll have to wait and see."
The next couple of days will go far in determining if O'Neal will return to the Celtics' lineup.
Celtics coach Doc Rivers, who addressed the media prior to Thursday's practice, said O'Neal would participate in the team's practice.
"We're not going to do nothing . . . we're going to walk through stuff," Rivers said. "I could do today's practice. But tomorrow and the following day are the two big days for Shaq. He's going to try and get through practices and see what he can do."
The impact of O'Neal on the Celtics is undeniable.
When you get past Boston's Big Four of Rajon Rondo, Ray Allen, Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett, no Celtic player had a better plusminus than O'Neal who is plus-5.2 points per game.
Although he's only averaging 9.2 points and 4.8 rebounds per game, O'Neal is shooting an impressive 66.7 percent from the field.
The only issue with O'Neal is his health.
A series of injuries have limited him to a career-low 37 games played this season.
The injuries, plus the fact that the 39-year-old is the league's oldest player, makes his return one the Celtics are cautiously optimistic about heading into their first-round series.
Ainge told CSNNE.com that he does expect O'Neal to play at some point against the Knicks, but isn't ready to commit to him being ready to go Sunday.
"We've had injuries all season, but, yeah, we're about as healthy now as we've been all season," Ainge said. "The only real question mark we have health-wise right now, is Shaq."