West will play Sunday; Shaq's status uncertain


West will play Sunday; Shaq's status uncertain

By A.Sherrod Blakely

BOSTON The playoffs begin this weekend for the Boston Celtics, and they're as close to being at full strength as we've seen all season.

The C's got a major scare on Monday when Delonte West re-aggravated a right ankle injury that sidelined him earlier this season.

Although he didn't play in Boston's 112-102 win over New York on Wednesday, coach Doc Rivers is very confident he'll have the 6-foot-3 guard available for Boston's first-round playoff series with the New York Knicks, which begins at the TD Garden on Sunday.

"Delonte will be playing for sure, from everything I hear," Rivers said.

The news isn't nearly as rosy or optimistic on the return of Shaquille O'Neal, who is still nursing a strained right calf injury suffered on April 3 against Detroit.

When asked when he would like to see O'Neal back in the Celtics lineup, Rivers responded, "Shaquille, I'd like to see him yesterday. We'll just have to wait and see."

Rivers' position on O'Neal is one that's cautiously optimistic.

He has been down this road too many times this season, thinking that he would have the 7-foot-1 center available only to learn at the last minute that he would remain sidelined.

Because the Knicks' lack of depth in the middle, there's a pretty good chance that O'Neal wouldn't play much even if he were fully healthy.

His injury, coupled with Jermaine O'Neal playing better than expected since returning on March 31 after having left knee surgery in February, gives the Celtics the option of continuing to bring Shaq back in the fold slowly.

When he does return, Rivers will have an interesting dilemma on his hands.

Which O'Neal will he start?

Both have shown the ability to play well with the starting unit this season.

And what does Shaq's return mean to Nenad Krstic's playing time?

Like Shaq, Krstic has had some strong outings with the first group as well. But Jermaine O'Neal is a better defender and Shaq has the kind of size that not only draws defenses near, but also frees up his teammates for relatively open shots from the perimeter. However, Krstic has the best shooting range of the three centers, which allows the Celtics to better space the floor offensively.

There's no doubt that the potential for this be problematic is alive and well.

But if you're Rivers, this is the kind of problem -- especially heading into the playoffs -- you'd love to have.

A. Sherrod Blakely can be reached atsblakely@comcastsportsnet.com.Follow Sherrod on Twitter at http:twitter.comsherrodbcsn

Horford's all-around play key in first regular season game with Celtics

Horford's all-around play key in first regular season game with Celtics

BOSTON – The Al Horford love fest continues with the veteran big man delivering yet another impressive performance for the Boston Celtics.

And this one?

Unlike his play in the preseason, Wednesday night's game counts.

Horford’s all-around play was pivotal to Boston holding on for a 122-117 victory over the Brooklyn Nets.

CELTICS 122, NETS 117:

The four-time All-Star made several high-basketball IQ-type plays that in hindsight, were major key moments in Boston pushing its lead to as many as 23 points.

In the third quarter with Boston ahead 71-65, Horford took advantage of Brooklyn closing out too hard on him and drove into the lane. As the Nets defenders collapsed to take away a shot attempt in the lane, Horford swung the ball to Jae Crowder whose jumper triggered a 14-5 run.

Boston would lead by double figures until the last couple of minutes of the game.

“We have to keep playing the right way, for 48 minutes,” Horford said when asked about the team’s late-game collapse.

The late-game struggles aside, there was a lot to like about how the Celtics played throughout the first 40 minutes.

And a big part of that strong play has to be credited to Horford whose ability to help keep the ball moving allowed the Celtics to finish with 36 assists on 48 made field goals, the kind of opening night assist numbers that haven’t been seen around these parts in decades.

Horford was among those getting into the act, scoring 11 points to go with five rebounds and six assists.

To see him racking up guard-like assist numbers isn’t unusual when you consider he was third in the league last season in assists per game (3.2) for a center.

“Guys were moving the ball very well,” Horford said. “It’s kind of contagious.”

Said Crowder: “I never saw coaches clap on a three-second call. We moved the ball in the first quarter so much we got a three-second call. We passed up a lot of open shots. It just shows how unselfish we are playing as a unit.”

And while that selfless brand of basketball was on display at times last season, the addition of Horford seems to have taken it to another level.

“He opens the floor, he makes it easier for everybody; he’s always in the right spots, he’s a threat at all times,” said Boston’s Isaiah Thomas. “He can hit the 3, hit the mid-range, and also post up so he has the full package; a guy that makes it easy for everybody.”