Waiting on Shaq

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Waiting on Shaq

By Rich Levine
CSNNE.com

Charlie Sheen wants us all to love violently, and fortunately (as to not upset his fragile genius), the concept isnt too far from the norm for a Boston sports fan.

Maybe Bostons unable to love quite as violently as Sheen, but in terms of what regular, not-so-special humans are capable of, Bostons right up there with the best. When it comes to violently loving professional sports, no one can hold a candle.

And were modest, too.

Bostons a place where failures never tolerated. As an athlete, it doesnt matter if youre too old, too young, injured, out of place or out of shape. If you underperform, you hear it. You get picked on. You become the inspiration for so many sports talk tirades. Of course, if youre successful in Boston, life will never be better. Youll walk around town like the President only your secret service would be two drunk guys in matching Danny Woodhead jerseys. Or like Sheen walking around Sober Valley Ranch only if the goddesses were those same two drunk guys.

But if you come up short around here, it can be brutal. Just ask guys like Eric Gagne, or Dennis Wideman or Adalius Thomas. Youll be ridiculed, tormented, or . . .

Or sometimes . . . just ignored?

So far, thats whats happened with Shaquille ONeal.

Four months into the season, and hes barely been a factor. Hes shown glimpses of what he can do, but still hasnt proven he can do it for an extended period of time. In the meantime, hes amassed an unbelievable collection of injuries and to this point weve chosen to ignore them, or at least resisted labeling them with any sort of significance.

On one hand, you can understand why.

For one, because the injuries are inevitable. However optimistic you wanted to be at the start of this season, it was guaranteed that Shaq was going to miss significant time with this, that or any number of injuries. Why? Well, hes unbelievably old. Not just a little old. Ray Allen and Kevin Garnett are little old, and proving that old isnt always a negative trait. Shaq was a "little old" in Miami. Now hes the oldest; literally the oldest player in the league.

You dont see many 39-year olds in the NBA. Of those who make it that long, very few start as early as Shaq and almost none can boast that kind of odometer reading. Only 16 guys in NBA history have logged more minutes than ONeal (one of them is KG), and of those 16, none (no, not even you, John Stockton) can match Shaqs sheer size (not just height, but size).

What hes done in terms of longevity is really impressive, but its not without legitimate consequences. And for Shaq, that leaves him with a body that isnt primed for extended NBA battle. But we knew that coming in, so it's not much of a surprise. What are you supposed to say now? Hey, remember how we knew Shaq could get hurt a bunch this regular season? Well . . . it happened! Wanna talk about it?

While the predictability of Shaqs string of injuries is one factor in his undermentioned, underwhelming season, another is the uncertainty of the future.

Basically, the fact that if Shaq can somehow get it together in time for the playoffs and help the Celtics win just 16 more games, then none of these injuries matter. Nothing will matter except for the fact that Shaq came to Boston and somehow did enough to help bring them a title. At that point, the hip, the knee, the calf, the Achilles, the foot and everything else that pops up between now and then will mean nothing. All the time we spent almost talking about them will mean less.

No matter how frustrated you want to get with Shaq for these injuries, you cant help but feel like until the playoffs start, its useless to even care. That's why they brought him here. That when we can judge him (and every other personnel move from the past year). At that point, if he comes through, well look back at early March and think, Ha! Remember all the whining we did when Shaq decided to hibernate for the winter? Well look back and laugh at everything from the last few months. That was just Shaq being Shaq! Goofing around and missing games; showing up more on TV and Twitter than he does on the court. This was his plan all along! He knew hed be fine. They knew hed be fine."

But who knows?

Yesterday afternoon, after A. Sherrod Blakely broke the news that Shaq is, once again, out indefinitely, I wasnt sure how to react. It was only natural to get frustrated, maybe a little concerned. Especially with Kendrick Perkins and Semih Erden playing elsewhere, with Jermaine ONeal no guarantee to be back, and with Troy Murphy still shooting a cool .000 for his Celtics career. The playoffs are six weeks away and the Celtics are still looking to get the right bodies on the court and finally start shaping themselves for the playoffs. And Shaq needs be a part of that.

But for now, he's not and he won't be. And amazingly, Boston still doesn't seem panicked. For some reason with Shaq, they're able to put aside that violent love for their team that's resulted in so many underachieving and injury-prone players turning into public enemies, and hold out hope.

In that sense, maybe Shaq's off-the-court persona helps him. Maybe the fact that he means so much, and undoubtedly gives so much of his time to the community, and is one of the more lovable and jovial personalities in sports makes him a guy that fans want to root for. It makes it very difficult for a lot of fans to even stay mad at him. And maybe that works. Hes such a unique guy. Theres never been an athlete who's taken over Boston like Shaq in such a short amount of time. And there probably never will be. So maybe its fitting that hes been given this treatment. For all he's done, maybe he deserves it.

But if it were any other players, under any other circumstances, that violent love would have started to boil. And Charlie Sheen's the only one who'd be gaining any kind of satisfaction.

Rich Levine's column runs each Monday, Wednesday and Friday on CSNNE.com. Rich can be reached at rlevine@comcastsportsnet.com. Follow Rich on Twitter at http:twitter.comrlevine33

At the half: Sixers applying pressure early and often against the Celtics

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At the half: Sixers applying pressure early and often against the Celtics

The Celtics are getting more than they bargained for against the Philadelphia 76ers who are once again, record-wise, among the worst teams in the NBA.

They didn’t look like it in the first half which ended with the Celtics trailing the Sixers 53-45.

Boston came into the game having won its last four road games. And they did so by playing solid defense, something that has been noticeably absent in the first half.

Philadelphia came into the game as one of the NBA’s better 3-point shooting teams and has lived up to the lofty ranking.

In the first half Philadelphia made nine of its 18 three-point attempts while the Celtics are way, way, way at the other end of the 3-point shooting spectrum while missing eight of their 11 3s with Isaiah Thomas making a pair with the lone other made 3-pointer coming from Marcus Smart.

The defense struggled, the offense never had any kind of flow and not surprisingly, the Celtics found themselves playing from behind most of the first half.

Here are the first half stars from Saturday’s game.

STARS

Sergio Rodriguez: His playmaking was solid as usual, but it was Rodriguez getting it going with his jumper that really produced surprisingly strong results for the Sixers. He had 11 points, four assists and a steal in the first half.

Isaiah Thomas: Playing his game which is shooting and attacking the rim, Thomas was Boston’s lone double-digit scorer in the first half with 15 points which is tops among all players.

STUDS

Dario Saric: It was a solid first half as Saric contributed both on the boards and the scoreboard. He had 10 points in the first half along with five rebounds.

Gerald Henderson: Henderson had one of those high efficiency-type games with 11 points on 4-for-5 shooting.

DUDS

Celtics 3-point shooting: It was a miserable first half for a team that has been among the NBA’s leaders in 3-pointers made and taken this season. At the half, Boston has shot 2-for-10 on 3's.

Celtics defense: Boston has shown little to no signs of providing the kind of push-back they’ll need in order to leave Philly with a win. In addition to allowing Philadelphia to shoot 47.4 percent from the field, Boston also allowed the Sixers to knock down nine 3's.

Thomas becoming one of the NBA's best in the fourth quarter

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Thomas becoming one of the NBA's best in the fourth quarter

Isaiah Thomas has established himself as one of the NBA’s top players in the fourth quarter of games this season.

“I’d rather play that than any other quarter,” Thomas said.

But there will be times when the game’s flow or head coach Brad Stevens’ gut will tell him to go in a different direction with Thomas’ minutes which is something the two have had conversations about which has helped eliminate any confusion or misunderstandings.

“We’ve had player-coach talks, how he feels and how I feel,” Thomas said. “That’s the relationship we have. We changed it up a little bit (in the win over Sacramento) and I’m just happy we got the win.”

In that game, Thomas was replaced by Terry Rozier with 3:20 to play in the quarter and Boston trailing 66-63. He returned to the floor at the 8:31 mark and the Celtics were down 76-74.

“The key is, there are some times where you feel like those last few minutes of the third quarter will be real important moving forward,” Stevens told reporters prior to tonight’s game. “Especially based on how your team is playing. And you just have to make that decision. You have to make that decision, you take him out early in the third like we did (against Sacramento) and put him back in earlier; or play him through until the two or one-minute mark in the third, and then give him his rest up until the seven or six. Either way, we’ve talked about it like I do with all our guys, especially the guys that are playing and big in the rotation.

Stevens would love to come up with a game plan and stick to it with little to no changes being made.

But the NBA game is unpredictable and his job as the head coach is to make the necessary on-the-fly changes that best position the Celtics for victory.

“Ultimately there will be days that it will be very consistent and there might be a time or two where I’m gonna go with my gut,” Stevens said. “They know that and we’ve talked about it.”

And while Stevens’ decision may not sit well with some, players understand it’s all done to achieve one goal – win. 

“There’s a number of reasons why you make a decision to leave someone in or take someone out,” Stevens said. “Ultimately, we have to figure out game to game, moment to moment, what’s best for our team. That’s what I’m charged with. That doesn’t mean I’m always right. I’m not gonna act like that. Ultimately, those guys know I’m thinking about it all the time.”