Celtics center Shaquille O'Neal will sit out Thursday's game with lingering soreness around his right knee, with pain in his shin and calf dating back to his collision with New York's Amare Stoudemire at the end of October. Rookie Semih Erden will start in his place.
Celtics coach Doc Rivers knew this day would come, when he would be without the services of both Shaq and Jermaine O'Neal (left knee soreness), and it might actually be a surprise that, considering the injuries both have endured, it took until Game 22 to happen.
Sticking with his emergency plan from earlier in the season, Rivers will put Erden into a starting role in order to maintain some of the continuity the Boston bench desperately needs right now, keeping Glen Davis as the team's first big off the bench.
"Semih [will start], he won the toss," joked Rivers. "There's no choice in some ways. When you think of your bench, you have [rookie] Luke [Harangody] and Semih coming off the bench, if you started Baby, and that would be tough for both of them to be in [at the same time]. Basically, [the Celtics will start Erden] to split the two young guys up, so they're not in together."
Erden, the 60th overall selection in the 2008 draft, who has been a key frontcourt reserve in his first year in Boston, will face lofty expectations running with Boston's first unit.
"[Erden has] performed well, the concern is that he has struggled defensively at times and our first unit has been unbelievable defensively, so you can see they were concerned by that," said Rivers. "This morning, when we were going over stuff, it should be interesting, because they were pretty hard on him about defense. You don't come into our group and screw things up. It will be an interesting night for us."
Shaq said he was willing to endure some sort of pain-killer to get on the floor, but the Celtics' training staff actually told him to simply rest.
"We want him to be healthy, it's very important for him to be healthy," said Rivers. "We want him to play as many minutes as he can, we need him to, for a lot of reasons, because we have J.O. and [Kendrick Perkins] out, but at the end of the day, we need him healthy. So we’re not going to do anything that possibly could take him out for long haul.
"I don't know what line to walk with Shaq. He’s 38 years old, he has a lot of mileage, and we want to keep him in playing shape, and in rhythm with our offense and defense, so he knows our schemes. It's a fine line to walk and I have no idea if we’re waking it right or not, and so we’re going to listen to him and [team trainer] Eddie [Lacerte]. That's what I'm going by, Eddie is the guy, he’ll say: 'Maybe we should give him this day off,' then that's how we’ll do it."
In other injury news, Marquis Daniels is sporting kinesio tape over his right thumb, but will play despite some swelling there from the errant pass that jammed the digit in Wednesday's win over the Nuggets... Paul Pierce, like Davis, is battling flu-like symptoms, but said he's trying to play through it. Pierce sounded congested after Wednesday's game and is clearly battling through some stuffiness heading into Thursday's tilt.