All along, Shaquille O'Neal was eyeing Sunday night's Game 1 against the Knicks as his target date to return from his right calf injury. The big fella showed up for practices all this week in preparation for Sunday, but a setback Saturday morning has forced the team to reevaluate.
"We tried to get him out there in practice today, just to simulate a game as much as we could," Celtics president of basketball operations Danny Ainge said at Saturday's practice. "He's not ready. We don't know when he'll be ready. We'll just keep evaluating from day to day. He won't play in tomorrow's game."
Team physician Brian McKeon says it's difficult to give an outlook on Shaq's future. The injury is severe enough that cortisone shots wouldn't make a difference, but not so severe as to require surgery (i.e., a ruptured Achilles tendon). The best treatment, according to McKeon, is time. It's difficult to say how much.
"It's so dependent upon the particular athlete and what sport they do," McKeon said. "Because it's a blood supply issue, it's so hard to tell. This is an area where even MRIs are worthless. It's really just a matter of how the patient is feeling. It's hard to give you specifics."
McKeon says that O'Neal has sustained an injury to the entire triceps surae complex — the construct surrounding the Achilles tendon. He declined to describe it as a strain or pull, responding that "they all pretty much mean the same thing." The entire calf area is sore, basically.
"He's actually made progression every day," McKeon said. "But this is a tough injury. The blood supply in this area is so weak and so poor that he just needs time. I was telling Danny and the coaches that in the last 20 years, this is one area of medicine where we've made no progress. It's just time. It's just hard to get enough healing potential in that area."
The Celtics will have to take the court Sunday night without their big man in the middle. Jermaine O'Neal will start in his place, with Nenad Krstic coming off the bench.
"We're ready," C's coach Doc Rivers said. "We kind of anticipated this, although we didn't really know. We'll be ready."
There's been speculation that the Celtics don't need Shaq to get past the Knicks into the second round, but Rivers has ignored that. He just wants his big man back.
"We just want everybody healthy," he said. "Doesn't matter who we're playing. The guy's put in a lot of work. He's extremely disappointed that he can't go. I told him to just keep working.