By A. Sherrod Blakely
BOSTON At some point tonight, Boston Celtics coach Doc Rivers confirmed that Shaquille O'Neal will make his long-awaited playoff debut for the C's.
O'Neal, who hasn't played since re-aggravating a right calfAchilles injury on April 3 against Detroit, will come off the bench.
"I just think that's tough," Rivers said when asked about not starting O'Neal. "There's a lot of defensive changes you have to make with him on the floor as well. That's just too much."
The fact that O'Neal has played less than six minutes since February brings his conditioning - never something that has been a strength of his - into question.
"That's why you can't get off to a tough start if conditioning is a problem," Rivers said. "It will be. That's what you use time-outs for, and that's what you use your eyes for. Hopefully we can see it."
Having O'Neal available gives the Celtics a much-needed inside presence, both offensively and defensively.
His ability to score around the basket, draw fouls and lots of attention should help the Celtics offense flow better.
And while he is very much a defensively liability, especially in pick-and-roll situations, O'Neal has the ability to clog up the lane should take away some of the driving lanes that Dwyane Wade and LeBron James have been cruising into in the first two games.
"Any additions to our lineup, regardless of who plays, is a help," said Boston's Kevin Garnett. "Shaq coming back is a huge help for us."
O'Neal, 39, the oldest player in the NBA, has appeared in a career-low 37 regular season games this season. He averaged 9.2 points and 4.8 rebounds - also career lows.