By A. Sherrod Blakely
WALTHAM As the Boston Celtics opened their practice to the media on Friday, there was a sight we haven't seen in a while - Shaquille O'Neal.
He was on the sideline, a place that he may very well be when the Celtics open up their first-round playoff series against the New York Knicks.
Game One will be Sunday at the TD Garden.
After Boston's regular-season finale against New York earlier this week, coach Doc Rivers was hopeful O'Neal would get a couple practices in before returning to the court.
But that plan, like most of the C's plans when it comes to O'Neal, has been changed.
While there was some thought to having O'Neal involved with Friday's practice, Rivers said, "I just don't want to take the chance."
Rivers added, "He'll practice, hopefully Saturday, and we'll make a decision after that."
As much as the Celtics want O'Neal back on the floor, there really isn't a rush at the moment.
His impact on the Celtics postseason push will be needed as the C's get deeper into the playoffs.
The New York Knicks are actually one of the few playoff teams in the East for which there exists a huge void at the center position.
That, coupled with Jermaine O'Neal playing his best basketball for the Celtics, gives Boston the confidence that they can go out and win this series against New York - with or without S. O'Neal.
But as we have seen throughout this season, Boston is a better team when Shaq is on the floor.
Even as the oldest player in the NBA, S. O'Neal still has a presence about him that demands plenty of attention.
"Every day he wakes up, he's still going to be Shaq," New York's Chauncey Billups told CSNNE.com. "And Shaq, even now, is a player your defense has to worry about because he's still so big and he's still really strong. He may not be a 20 (point) and 10 (rebound) guy like he used to, it don't matter. Shaq causes problems for your defense."
When he's not scoring, his presence opens the floor for his teammates.
And defensively, his size is more of a deterrent for players trying to get into the lane who are well aware that the 7-foot-1 center is not shy about laying a hit on anyone invading the lane.