So the Celtics are about to begin the playoffs, and they have this big man who's been battling a nagging injury for the last few months, and there's been a lot of secrecy about when he's coming back. All we know for sure is he's not playing Game 1.
Stop me if you've heard this one.
Yes, the ongoing injury melodrama in Boston surrounding Shaquille O'Neal sounds eerily familiar. It sounds a lot like what went on back in 2009, when the C's set out to defend their 17th championship with Kevin Garnett on the shelf.
KG went down on Feb. 19, 2009 with a strained right knee. He came back for four games in March, playing limited minutes, before shutting it down permanently at season's end. There were rumors of him coming back in the playoffs, but those never came to fruition. The C's blew a 3-2 series lead over the Magic in the second round, uncharacteristically losing a home Game 7.
Shaq has been out since Feb. 1 with an Achilles injury; he returned for five minutes in April and strained a calf. Now he's out for at least one game, if not many more.
The comparison is obvious. In both cases, the C's were forced to make do without a key component, and their first time put through that wringer, it didn't work out.
But Shaq is no KG, and 2011 is not 2009.
This time, the Celtics are prepared. They have two centers with playoff experience in Jermaine O'Neal and Nenad Krstic. The younger O'Neal is a six-time All-Star and a veteran of 12 postseasons, going on 13. The C's have experience and depth either way.
The injury also isn't as serious. Knees are the vital cogs of an athlete's body; Shaq's situation is less severe. The soreness in his calf is just an example of natural aches and pains in a 39-year-old body. Right now, it's bad, but it can go away.
In losing Shaquille O'Neal, the Celtics are losing a source of instant offense, a guy who can carry them for five- or six-minute stretches every now and then. But they're not losing their heart and soul.
KG plays 35 minutes a night in the playoffs. He's their backbone defensively, and while he's not their most explosive weapon on the offensive end, he's a steady presence in his role. He's one of the few indispensables.
Without Shaq? It's an inconvenience, but it's one the Celtics have planned for. It's one they've survived with for the last two months.
Two years ago, the Celtics folded up shop in the East semifinals because they were missing the guy that makes them go. Not this time. In 2011, they're still chugging along.
The Celtics have never missed the NBA Finals with a healthy Kevin Garnett. That other guy? He's nice too, but this team can survive either way.
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