By Jessica Camerato
BOSTON - There is a reoccurring theme when it comes to the return of Shaquille ONeal.
His contributions dont show up on the box score.
After missing the last 12 games with a strained right calf, ONeal made his first postseason appearance on Saturday night in Game 3 of the Eastern Conference Semifinals against the Miami Heat.
He recorded two points, one assist, one steal, and no rebounds while picking up two fouls in less than nine minutes. All those stats dont really matter, though. His presence on the court was immeasurable in numbers.
Just having him out there, just having his presence in the locker room, coming into the game, walking out before the game, its just something about him, Paul Pierce said after the Celtics 97-81 win. He just creates such an energy, when hes on the bench and hes talking to guys and when hes in the game. Its almost like having another man out there. So hes big for us, the minutes he can give us.
Doc Rivers said before the game that he would put a restriction on ONeals minutes but rather monitor them based on how he saw him playing. ONeal played in spurts, making his first appearance with 2:41 left in the first quarter and taking a seat two minutes and 36 seconds later. He played another two minutes in the second quarter, sat out the third, and was on the court for three minutes and 43 seconds in the final quarter.
It was the most he has played since going just under 16 minutes on February 1 against the San Antonio Spurs.
ONeal did not talk to the media after the game, but teammates and opponents alike had plenty to say about him.
He just brought himself, said Delonte West. The things that he does dont show up always on the box scores -- the little side conversations that he has with Jeff Green and how he keeps Big Baby (Glen Davis) motivated. For our starters to come off the floor and have a guy there waiting for them that they respect and trust his knowledge, he does so much for us that doesnt show up.
In addition to the motivational talks and words of wisdom ONeal offers on the bench, he helped newcomer Green settle in on the court in Game 3. Green, who had been tasked with playing both the small forward and power forward in this series, was able to focus on his perimeter defense with ONeal in the middle.
When you have Shaq down there protecting the hole, guys are going to be afraid to go down there, he said. As long as hes there, were allowed to put more pressure on the guys around the perimeter.
ONeals return gave the Celtics another big man to defend the paint and counter the Heats centers. Zydrunas Ilgauskas, who played with ONeal on the Cleveland Cavaliers, knew what the Heat would be up against.
He hasnt played in a long time. To come back for the playoffs, its not easy. But if anybody can do it, he can because of his experience and everything else, he said, adding, Just his size alone, his inside presence, he eats up a lot of space. People dont give him a lot of credit but hes a smart player. He knows how to help the team. From what it looks like, hes accepted his role here.
The Celtics waited six postseason games to get their big man back, and his return could not have come at a better time for them with a critical Game 3 victory.
Every time we get somebody back whos been a big part of the team, said Jermaine ONeal, It helps build the confidence of the team.
Jessica Camerato is on Twitter at http:twitter.comjcameratonba