Pressed into extended first-half action because of foul trouble with his top reserve, 38-year-old Shaquille O'Neal responded. Shaq keyed the Boston offense by connecting on 6-of-7 shots for 13 points and added six rebounds, all of which came during a first half when only Rajon Rondo logged more time on the court for the Green.
O'Neal, who finished with 22 minutes 22 seconds of action on a night in which the other starters got a breezier-than-usual workload, held the fort before the Big Four found their groove and kicked the doors open late in the first half.
“That's two games in the row," Rivers said of O'Neal's consecutive strong performances. "It’s great for us. It gives us an inside presence. With Shaq and Kevin [Garnett], that’s a lot of size out on the floor. And we’re taking advantage of it. Our spacing was as good as it’s been this year, really, to begin. They were trying to front Shaq with all the space that we had on the backside with Ray [Allen], that made it very difficult."
Echoed captain Paul Pierce: "That’s what we try to focus in on every night, trying to establish Shaq and Kevin. We feel like we have an advantage there every night. It makes our jobs easier. We've got guys that could spread the floor. We feed off of that, then we feed off of Rondo’s penetration, our ball movement, and that opens so many things because, with the shooters we've got and the guys that can get it to the lane, when we get the ball in there early, it makes our life a lot easier and the offense flows naturally that way.”
In addition to plenty of fourth-quarter rest, O'Neal's effort helped pave the way for the season's first in-game appearance of Gino, the American Bandstand JumboTron dancer. Garnett and O'Neal stood shoulder to shoulder, laughing throughout the sequence as the Bee Gees' "You Should Be Dancing" blared through the arena.
"[Shaq] asked what was that? And I told him that any time we get up by a lot, it’s the Gino Show," explained Garnett. "Paul and I took him through, clip by clip. They got some new clips up there that we haven’t seen in a minute, we had to blow the dust off of Gino tonight. But we were testing him because Shaq’s a 70’s kid, he knows some of [the dance moves], The Bump, The Wap -- some of those weird dances. Not all this weird, Dougie-ing and all that. So he recognized some of the moves, The Robot and all that. He enjoyed that, so hopefully we can get some more Gino up in here."
O'Neal claimed to be aware of the Gino phenomenon, but had never been able to enjoy it from the opposing bench.
"I've seen Gino before, he’s cool," said O'Neal. "I’ve seen Gino, [while] playing on other teams. I’ve been here 20 years, baby."
ROOKIE BRADLEY READY FOR TAKEOFF, REMAINS IN HOLDING PATTERN
Celtics rookie guard Avery Bradley deemed himself at roughly "96 percent" health before Wednesday's game and said he'd be ready if his name was called. But with Marquis Daniels returning to the team after a two-day absence to attend to a family matter, Bradley remained on the inactive list.
Bradley, sidelined by lingering pain from offseason left ankle surgery and set back by a sprain a couple of weeks back, resumed practicing with the team Monday when it returned from a four-game road trip.
Rivers is encouraged by what he's seen.
"He's had two decent practices the last couple of days, so that's a good step," Rivers said. As for expectations moving forward, Rivers isn't certain.
"We haven't seen him play much, so I have no idea. I’d like to see Rookie of the Year stuff. But, honestly, I have no idea. I do think, watching him in the limited time that he’s played, I think he can be a great NBA defender someday. That may not manifest itself this year, but I do think he has an excellent shot at being that, if nothing else, and that’s good."
Bradley thought before the game that Daniels would get the nod over him, but said he's raring to go, that he's not even nervous, the anticipation of finally playing in an NBA game leaves him yearning to simply get on the parquet. Bradley did find it ironic that both he and old friend John Wall, teammates at the AAU level during their high schools days, were both sidelined for Wednesday's game with left leg ailments.
LOOSE BALLS: HUDSON RETURNS TO GARDEN; CRUNCHING NUMBERS
* Old friend, new team: Lester Hudson, Boston's second-round selection (58th overall) in the 2009 NBA draft, returned to the Garden on Wednesday night with the Wizards, logging 14:21 of floor time, but missing all five shots he took. (He did hit a pair of free throws for his first points of the season.) Hudson appeared in 16 games (only 70 total minutes of action) for Boston before being waived on Jan. 6, the day before contracts became guaranteed. He latched on with his hometown Memphis Grizzlies for nine more games last season before earning a spot with the Wizards out of training camp this season. With Wall out, Hudson got plenty of action, more than doubling his playing time after appearing in three games for 12 minutes this season.
* Punching the clock: Wednesday's game was the shortest of the season for the Celtics at a mere 2 hours 9 minutes. Boston played back-to-back games in 2:10 on Nov. 7 and 8, but four of its previous six games went at least 2:45 (thanks in large part to three overtime games and a national TV appearance against the Heat).
* Technical tracker: Pierce picked up his first technical foul of the season for extracurricular chatter toward the officials during a third-quarter timeout. It was the Celtics' eighth technical foul of the season, four of which have been for yapping at officials.
* Charge watch: Glen Davis picked up charge No. 17 of the season (Andray Blatche his latest victim, late in the first quarter) and now boasts an 11-game charge-taken streak to open the season. Ray Allen drew his first charge (Gilbert Arenas late in the second quarter). The Celtics have taken 24 charges this season.
* Key stats: The Celtics boasted a 56-28 advantage in points in the paint ... Boston finished with 32 assists, while Washington had only 31 field goals ... Rondo registered more assists (13) than the entire Wizards team (12) ... Boston shot a season-best 65.8 percent from the floor (nearly 20 percent better than they were at the charity stripe at 46.2 percent on 6-of-13 shooting) ... Boston finished with a 40-36 edge in rebounding. Washington had 18 offensive boards, so the Green allowed a mere 18 defensive caroms.