Shaquille O’Neal scored eight points in his debut with the Boston Celtics and the defending Eastern Conference champions opened their preseason with a 93-65 victory over the Philadelphia 76ers on Wednesday night.
Ray Allen led Boston with 14 points, including two 3-pointers, while Glen “Big Baby” Davis and Semih Erden both had 13 points.
But it was “The Diesel’s Debut” that grabbed much of the attention.
“I’m just trying to get into it with the guys,” he said. “Just trying to stay a thousand percent healthy, because, in a couple a weeks, you know, it’s for all the marbles.”
The Celtics, who lost an epic Game 7 of the NBA finals to the Los Angeles Lakers, returned coach Doc Rivers, who considered retirement, as well as Allen and Paul Pierce — both of whom could have left via free agency.
“I didn’t really know what to expect,” Rivers said. “Our defense was phenomenal.”
The Celtics signed the large O’Neal — Shaquille — along with Jermaine O’Neal and Delonte West, hoping to add depth to a bench that will need to offer support for aging stars Kevin Garnett, Pierce and Allen.
Boston led 49-22 at halftime after the 76ers shot 16 percent (5 of 31). Led by Allen’s 10 points in the opening half, the Celtics shot 57 percent.
“You know I sort of expected this tonight,” Philadelphia coach Doug Collins said. “I mean we did not have our key guys.”
Collins said he didn’t play forward Elton Brand and guard Andre Iguodala because the team “hadn’t had a day off yet.” He said the team would be off Thursday.
The Celtics took a 70-40 lead after three quarters.
With center Kendrick Perkins sidelined after offseason surgery on his right knee and Jermaine O’Neal out with a strained left hamstring, the 38-year-old Shaq started at center.
His first basket with the Celtics came on an alley-oop from Rajon Rondo when the 7-foot-1 center tipped in the pass to the delight of the crowd early in the first quarter.
“We’ve still got several new players that have to get adjusted to the Celtics basketball culture, but overall we’re doing what we’re supposed to do,” O’Neal said.
About the only thing he did to let down the crowd was when he — like he usually does — struggled at the free-throw line, missing two midway into the third.
He even flashed that familiar smile when he checked in early in the second quarter and joked with his teammates on the bench.
Shaq was the last one onto the court when the Celtics took the court for pregame warmups, but he immediately grabbed the attention of many of those waiting to see his first action with Boston.
A big roar went up when a fan was shown on the jumbotron holding a sign that read, “Welcome Shaq.”
76ers center Spencer Hawes strained his lower back in the first half and did not play in the second.