The Celtics took a couple hours on Saturday afternoon to put in a solid workout at their training facility in Waltham — and to play another round of the O'Neal Shuffle.
C's center Shaquille O'Neal, who started and played significant minutes in each of the team's first two preseason games this week, was nowhere to be seen on the basketball court, taking a day off from full-contact practice to recuperate his body. But Boston's other O'Neal was back in action — after missing all of this week with soreness in his left hamstring, Jermaine O'Neal took the floor Saturday and worked hard in practice with the C's starting five.
So, Jermaine, how does it feel?
"Tired," the Celtics' center said. "I was tired today. But you've got to start somewhere, and you've got to be able to build. My hamstring felt good, it felt really good. I look forward to getting back on the court. I haven't been able to play with the guys in a real game situation, and hopefully I'll be able to get some easy shots up. It'll be good to see somebody else outside of the guys on our team."
The Celtics will take the floor Sunday evening for their first true home game of the preseason, their TD Garden opener against one of O'Neal's former teams, the Toronto Raptors. While C's coach Doc Rivers stressed that O'Neal was still a game-time decision to take the floor Sunday, he sounded optimistic that his veteran big man could play.
"He looked good," the coach said. "I ran him pretty hard today. I'm more concerned about all of our guys tomorrow, if any of them can play after today. It was a lot of running. But he looked good. He went through the entire practice. I don't think he came out once. So he looks all good, but we'll have to wait until tomorrow."
Back in action with his Celtic teammates, O'Neal scrimmaged with the rest of the starting five Saturday, while the second unit used a rotating big-man carousel of Semih Erden, Glen Davis and Luke Harangody. The starters worked well together in practice, an encouraging sign for a unit that hasn't yet taken the floor together in a game situation.
"It was very good having J.O. back out there," Kevin Garnett said. "You know, if we're going to be anything this year, we're going to need his contributions. He looked really good today. He was explosive. It was a good day."
"He was good," Paul Pierce said of O'Neal. "Just getting a chance to get him up and down the court, get him implemented into some of the things that we're trying to do, it was good. He hasn't yet played in a preseason game, so it'll be nice to see how he works with us out there during a real game."
As for the other O'Neal, there's no reason to worry. Shaquille wasn't able to take the floor with his teammates Saturday, but rest is never a bad thing for the 38-year-old Diesel.
"He was just working out, taking a day off," Pierce said. "I think we got tired of Shaq beating up on our centers. So we gave him the day off just to go in the weight room by himself, work out, get his body right. But we had a chance to get Jermaine back out there on the court today, which was a plus for us. It's preseason, and we're going to take precautions with our bigs. Today was a good day for him to rest."