By Jessica Camerato
BOSTON - The usual plan had been working -- start the game with Shaquille O'Neal and finish it with Glen Davis.
But Wednesday's matchup against the Philadelphia 76ers was anything but usual, and Doc Rivers had to deviate from his normal strategy.
The Celtics found themselves down 72-68 with just over five minutes to go in the game. They had scored just four points in the fourth quarter and needed a spark if they were going to fend off the feisty Sixers.
So Rivers turned to the bench and called for a starter. He wanted O'Neal to help take back the game.
"Nothing else was working," Rivers said following the Celtics 84-80 win. "As a coach sometimes you just try and mix it up. I thought Shaq had a great energy tonight. I thought he was disruptive in the paint."
With O'Neal back on the court, the Celtics attacked the basket and took advantage of the Sixers' lack of depth in the paint. O'Neal drew a foul on Tony Battie and hit both free throws to cut the deficit to two points.
"He was huge for us when we needed him," said Kevin Garnett. "Usually he's not in there during that course of the time of the game. But he was big for us. He got us into the bonus."
O'Neal then nabbed four rebounds before drawing the sixth and final foul on Elton Brand.
Even though O'Neal missed his final free throws, he had taken away the Sixers' strongest weapon. Brand was Philly's top scorer and best defensive player (16 points, 12 rebounds).
All the while, he spread the floor for the Celtics and helped his teammates get open looks. The C's went on a 16-8 run during O'Neals five-minute stretch.
"When you've got Shaq in there it's a luxury because he's like a black hole, he sucks everything in," said Garnett. "He gets Ray Allen, Paul Pierce, perimeter guys, even myself, open shots that normally we wouldn't get to have. So he's a luxury."
Rivers' decision to change things up paid off, as the Celtics closed out the game with a victory. Twelve of their 20 fourth-quarter points came at the free-throw line.
"I thought they really struggled with him in pick-and-rolls with Paul," said Rivers. "And I thought if with Baby (Glen Davis), they may switch. With Paul, he could pull it, Shaq could go down the middle. If Shaq didn't have dunks, somebody else would get open.
"So that's what went into the decision that worked out today. And that's good."
Follow Jessica Camerato on Twitter at http:www.twitter.comjcameratonba