Shaquille O’Neal’s return

Shaquille O’Neal was active for a Celtics game for just the second time since February 1, giving Boston a huge post presence and perhaps altering this Eastern Conference semifinal series. He scored 2 points in 8 minutes 29 seconds in the Celtics’ 97-81 victory over the Heat in Game 3 last night at TD Garden.
“I thought Shaq had a big impact in the second half, just his presence” – coach Doc Rivers said. “He came out of the game healthy.’’
O’Neal had practiced the past two days and participated in the team’s shootaround yesterday morning in Waltham. He came off the bench last night.
O’Neal was still walking with a limp because of his sore right Achilles’ tendon and foot. After workouts, Rivers said the veteran center made great progress over the past few weeks.
O’Neal was expected to return during the first-round series with the Knicks, but his recovery has been slow.
“With him, it will just be the eye test and whatever you think he can handle” – Rivers said before Game 3. “He looked good this morning and [Friday] he had a good practice.
“Obviously Shaq can’t do things that he could do 15 years ago. But when he comes in and fills a role for this team, he’s been terrific for us.”

Shaquille O’Neal's return
Shaquille O’Neal.

Boston. He was last seen in a Boston Celtics uniform hobbling to the locker room in pain on April 3.
Five weeks after his first return to the Celtics’ rotation was quickly sidetracked, Shaquille O’Neal gave it another try on Saturday night.
O’Neal, who had only played 5 minutes in one game since February 1 due to an inflamed Achilles and a strained calf muscle, made his Celtics’ postseason debut in Game 3 against the Miami Heat.
After weeks of rehabilitation and treatment, O’Neal was finally able to suit up again for the Celtics, who faced a 0:2 deficit when they met the Heat at TD Garden.
O’Neal entered the game with 2:41 left in the first quarter following a Celtics’ timeout and received a standing ovation as the theme from “Superman” played. He scored on a layup the first time he touched the ball.
“He’s gone through a lot” – said coach Doc Rivers prior to the game. “I don’t think people really understand how much he’s gone through to get to this point.
“A week ago, two weeks ago, we weren’t sure if he was going to play. As it got closer, you could see him improving. But he’s had to put in a lot of the time. He’s lost a ton of weight since he’s been injured and that’s just hard work, and he’s done it.”
O’Neal, who appeared in a career-low 37 games due to a variety of injuries, exited the lineup after a February 1 game against the Sacarmento Kings.

There is a reoccurring theme when it comes to the return of Shaquille O’Neal.
His contributions don’t show up on the box score.
After missing the last 12 games with a strained right calf, O’Neal made his first postseason appearance on Saturday night in Game 3 of the Eastern Conference Semifinals against the Miami Heat.
He recorded two points, one assist, one steal, and no rebounds while picking up two fouls in less than nine minutes. All those stats don’t really matter, though. His presence on the court was immeasurable in numbers.
“Just having him out there, just having his presence in the locker room, coming into the game, walking out before the game, it’s just something about him” – Paul Pierce said after the Celtics 97-81 win. “He just creates such an energy, when he’s on the bench and he’s talking to guys and when he’s in the game. It’s almost like having another man out there. So he’s big for us, the minutes he can give us.”
Doc Rivers said before the game that he would put a restriction on O’Neal’s minutes but rather monitor them based on how he saw him playing. O’Neal played in spurts, making his first appearance with 2:41 left in the first quarter and taking a seat two minutes and 36 seconds later. He played another two minutes in the second quarter, sat out the third, and was on the court for three minutes and 43 seconds in the final quarter.
It was the most he has played since going just under 16 minutes on February 1 against the San Antonio Spurs.
O’Neal did not talk to the media after the game, but teammates and opponents alike had plenty to say about him.
“He just brought himself” – said Delonte West. “The things that he does don’t show up always on the box scores – the little side conversations that he has with Jeff [Green] and how he keeps Big Baby (Glen Davis) motivated. For our starters to come off the floor and have a guy there waiting for them that they respect and trust his knowledge, he does so much for us that doesn’t show up.”

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