- Chris Forsberg, ESPN Staff Writer
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The rundown (a quick look at postgame headlines)
J. O'NEAL LETS DEFENSE SHINE IN BRIEF BOSTON DEBUT
Even after 14 years in the NBA, Jermaine O'Neal admitted to a case of the butterflies when he stepped on the floor for the first time in a Celtics uniform Sunday. It showed. In just five ticks of the clock, he managed to get whistled for a defensive three-second violation (which resulted in a team technical foul) and, soon after, got called for a rather obvious offensive foul trying to slow down a defender chasing a Boston shooter along the baseline.
Then, like so many other times during his career, came a big block that settled O'Neal down.
"I was a little bit nervous the first minute, a little bit uncomfortable because you want to play well in front of your new team, a new town," said O'Neal, who logged seven first-half minutes in which he blocked three shots, grabbed two rebounds and took a charge. He did not attempt a shot.
"For me, my defense sets my offensive tone; it gets my blood going. Sometimes guys dictate their game by making a shot. Sometimes you're not going to make that shot, or it takes a while to get that shot. Blocking a shot, taking a charge -- that really gets me going."
O'Neal got some time with the first unit, subbing for starting center Shaquille O'Neal with 6:24 to play in the first quarter. He blocked a Sonny Weems layup two minutes in, then swatted two Amir Johnson attempts before the end of the quarter and took a charge.
"Blocking a shot or taking a charge, I'm there," said Jermaine O'Neal. "I feel like I'm the best big in the game as far as taking charges. I consider myself a real safety and I can cover a lot of ground quickly."
He's still covering ground with the Boston offense, especially after sitting out for a week with a sore left hamstring that caused him to miss the Celtics' first two preseason games. Trying to protect that injury, Celtics coach Doc Rivers did not use O'Neal in the second half, at the behest of the training staff.
"I guess the plan was to only play me for a little bit," said O'Neal. "I didn't know until the second half, the beginning of the third quarter when Doc came to me and said I was done for the night. But it was fun getting out there. I feel really comfortable defensively. Offensively, I'm not up to speed with anything, but you've got to be able to build from some position. Tonight was a good building block for me."
Rivers liked what he saw in the brief sampling.
"That's what he does," Rivers said of O'Neals blocked shots. "The one thing this summer that we talked about with Jermaine is: Even if some of our plays that we think we run pretty well, rarely does the big on the weak side get the ball. And we found ourselves last year trying to pick Jermaine, just so he couldn't get to the ball. He was one of the few bigs we had to do that on. And he showed that. I don't know how he gets there, but he gets there. He's really good.
"He wanted to go [back in], but [Celtics trainer] Eddie [Lacerte] didn't think he should go in for the second half. I had planned on playing him, actually, in the second half, and Eddie came to me at halftime and said that was enough."
Rivers suggested before the game that he'll ramp up Jermaine O'Neal's minutes in one of Boston's next two preseason games, giving Shaquille O'Neal a full game off when the team travels for a back-to-back against the 76ers and Knicks early this week.
SHAQ GETS A TASTE OF PLAYING IN GREEN IN GARDEN
After a trek to New Hampshire last week, Celtics center Shaquille O'Neal got a real taste of home cooking Sunday. Making his third straight start of the preseason, Shaq registered 11 points on 4-of-6 shooting with five rebounds, two blocks and an assist in less than 17 minutes of action in his first time in green in front of the Garden faithful.
One thing that's obvious is that the Celtics very much enjoy having such a monster post presence and are making every effort to get Shaq the ball every time his defender so much as looks the other way.
"[Celtics point guard Rajon] Rondo knows that if he goes to the basket and my man leaves me, just throw it at the rim," said Shaq. "Just throw it at the backboard, throw it up; I'll get it. He's a great player and if he can make the pass, then most of the time I can make the catch."
And, if Shaq can make the catch, more often than not the ball's going to end up in the hoop (or he'll end up at the charity stripe).
"He commands such a presence on the inside that, when I drive the ball or Ray drives the ball, you really can't come off of him because if you do, he's going to get to finish," said Celtics captain Paul Pierce. "On offense, when you give him the ball, he's such a great passer and guys tend to sink on him, and it's going to open things up for us on the perimeter."
LOOSE BALLS: BABY'S NOSE BLEED; ERDEN PICKS AND ROLLS
* Celtics forward Glen Davis left the game early in the second quarter after suffering what the team dubbed a "nose contusion" after taking a charge under the Boston basket. Davis spilled hard to the floor with 10:48 to play in the second quarter after taking the bump from Toronto's David Andersen. Davis was attended to by trainer Ed Lacerte and left the floor with his nose plugged with cotton. He received treatment on the bench before retreating to the locker room, but the injury is not considered serious.
* Rivers continues to praise the play of rookie center Semih Erden, who remained aggressive despite playing with five fouls late in the game and got an education on playing pick-and-roll defense against sharpshooting bigs. He finished with four points (making the only shot he took), five rebounds and two assists.
"I thought the best part of that whole fourth quarter, at least the last part, was Semih guarding a shooting big with pick-and-rolls all over the floor," said Rivers. "He has a long way to go in our pick-and-roll coverage. But you think about a guy who's trying to learn the language and part of our defense is talking. So he's trying to call out words he's probably never said in his life when he calls them out right now. And you know, one is 'weak,' and when he should go left, he goes to the right. It's just tough for him. But it's good for him to be out on the floor [in those situations]."
* Delonte West on his return to the (often chilly) TD Garden: "I remember how cold it was, you know? You gotta get your blood flowing, you gotta get a good sweat. It's tough as an opponent coming in here, especially with the fans. It was amazing. I had to readjust when I heard all the screams."