Shaquille O’Neal missed yet another practice on Monday afternoon, going for a nice swim at the Celtics’ facility in Waltham instead of taking the basketball court with his teammates. At this point, he’s gone from doubtful for Tuesday night in Detroit to virtually a no-go.
“I doubt he plays tomorrow,” head coach Doc Rivers told the media Monday. “But we’ll see.”
While Shaq did say he would climb aboard the Celtics’ flight to Detroit for Tuesday night’s showdown with the 0-3 Pistons, he was pessimistic about his chances of taking the floor. That opens the door for Jermaine O’Neal, who was banged up all October and has played only 25 minutes so far this season.
“He had a great practice,” Rivers said of the younger O’Neal. “He’ll play. Obviously in the morning it could swell or something and he can’t go, but right now he looks good.”
Jermaine O’Neal’s time in Celtic green has been underwhelming to say the least. He played 13 minutes in the C’s season opener last Tuesday against the Heat, his previous team, and then he fouled out in his first 12 against the Cavs one night later. Rivers left him inactive Friday against the Knicks, allowing the veteran center to rest and treat his various minor injuries.
O’Neal has yet to make a real impact in Boston. But he’s optimistic that in a starting role Tuesday night in Detroit, he can begin to turn things around.
“I’m comfortable with playing major minutes,” he said Monday. “I still have a job to do. You can’t really make excuses for why you play well or why you don’t play well. I’m going to play whatever minutes Doc asks me to play. Obviously not being able to get a lot of minutes in the preseason and not playing a lot so far in the regular season has been a little bit of an issue, but it’s a long season. That’s one thing that we talk a lot about around here — it’s not about how you’re doing at the beginning of the year, it’s about getting rhythm and catching up with the program.”
The Celtics brought O’Neal in this summer on a two-year, $12 million contract, and he was expected to be the team’s new defensive anchor down low, in place of the injured Kendrick Perkins. But as injuries have set in and O’Neal has started his time in Boston with a reduced role, there’s now reason to doubt O’Neal’s place in the Celtics’ plans.
That’s why Tuesday is a big game for O’Neal — it’s his first real chance to prove he still belongs. So far, he hasn’t had that opportunity.
“It’s been challenging,” he said. “Obviously with the hamstring and the back, and now the knee, it’s been extremely disappointing for me so far. But trials and tribulations will make me stronger. You can never be successful if you don’t fail. So far, I haven’t been able to do the things that I want to do out there, and I know people aren’t happy with what they’ve seen. But I can guarantee that before the year is over with, they’ll be really happy with my play.”
With Shaq out, the Celtics’ big-man shuffle will be interesting. Not only for O’Neal — but also for Semih Erden, who will likely make his regular-season debut Tuesday, and for Glen Davis, who will see more time as the Celtics’ crunch-time scorer in the low post.
“It gives the guys that haven’t played a lot some experience,” Kevin Garnett said of the Celtics’ early injury woes. “Practice is one thing, but game situations are totally different. We’re no different than any other team in the league — we’re going through some hard days. It’s a physical game, that’s what it is. We just have to hold things down until guys get back.”
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