Celtics center Shaquille O'Neal wasted little time making an impact after sitting out four straight games because of soreness in his right calf.
Brian Babineau/NBAE/GettyShaq produces another monster jam, slamming home a first-quarter alley-oop.
Less than 90 seconds into Sunday's tilt with the Pacers, O'Neal caught a perfect lob from Paul Pierce and produced an emphatic one-handed jam over Jeff Foster that proved that, even at age 38, Shaq is still capable of producing poster moments.
O'Neal connected on 4-of-5 shots for 11 first-quarter points, helping Boston open an early nine-point cushion. O'Neal finished with those 11 points -- missing his final three shots -- and five rebounds over 20 minutes 46 seconds of action.
"He was great; he had great energy," Celtics coach Doc Rivers said. "I think that alley-oop probably sent him back five years. It was terrific. I’ve got to tell you, when Paul threw the pass, I thought no, there was just no way. And he not only caught it, but he finished it. So that was nice.
"But Shaq, you could see he had great energy. And him and Kevin, they’re both great passing bigs. When you have them both on the floor, our passing is off the charts."
O'Neal admitted to some postgame soreness, but credited team trainer Eddie Lacerte with getting him back on the floor and the Celtics staff with not rushing him despite a need for bodies.
“I’m good," said O'Neal. "[The calf is] kind of sore, but I’ll just take it easy and just try to strengthen the area. Like I said, Eddie Lacerte did a great job in getting me back.
"I wanted to play that Knicks game, but I one little spot still bothering me. Doc said to wait until I was close to 100 percent. I had a couple of days off and I felt pretty good. I wanted to give it a shot today."
O'Neal's minutes were crucial on a night that rookie Semih Erden, who filled the starting role admirably in the absence of a veteran big the last four games, logged only 6:38 while battling a groin pull. But after the game, it was the first-quarter alley-oop that everyone wanted to talk about.
"Shaq can play as long as he wants if he's making plays like that," Ray Allen said with a smile. "I'm just glad he's on my team."
O'Neal gave a little shake after the emphatic and-one jam brought the Garden crowd to its feet. He dubbed it "The Diesel Walk," much to the delight of teammate Nate Robinson.
"I thought he was going to do the Merton Hanks -- break his neck, oh man, I hoping for that one," Robinson said, referencing the former 49ers defensive back and his trademark celebration. "He's got that shimmy."
--CELTICS KEEPING AN EYE ON ORLANDO'S ROSTER OVERHAUL--
The Celtics took their scouting reports on the Orlando Magic and tossed them in the trash Saturday. Any work that advance scout Jamie Young did for this year's Christmas Day showdown became fodder for the shredder after the Magic overhauled their roster with a pair of blockbuster deals.
The Celtics certainly took notice of the activity, well in advance of February's trade deadline.
"They let go of a lot of talent, but they brought in a lot of talent, too," said Pierce. "The guys they brought in, Turkoglu already knows the system and understands what they're trying to do. Richardson is having an All-Star season. Those are guys that are more than capable rotation players -- it's three more guys and [Dwight Howard], it makes them dangerous. It's about how they get the chemistry down, how they fit in with Dwight."
Echoed Allen: "Orlando is trying to do what they need do to better themselves. For us, we have to stay aware, and in some ways, we have to readjust. We play them in two games and we have to adjust to their personnel and be prepared to play. The film that we watch will only be a game old.
"It makes [Christmas] even more interesting. They won’t even know what they’re putting out there on the table. They know what they’re getting, when those guys step on the floor, but you've got to build up chemistry. Sometimes with trades, guys hit the ground running, don’t miss a beat, sometimes it takes a while."
Rivers didn't think it would aid the Celtics much to see the Magic so soon after the deals.
"Oh, I don’t think it matters," said Rivers. "Hell, sometimes we all screw it up as coaches. Usually, when you first get [new players], the group of guys go out and play well, they just don’t know any plays. Who knows whether that will be an advantage or a disadvantage."
Rivers did think the Magic will benefit by bringing back Turkoglu, a thorn in Boston's side during the 2008-09 Eastern Conference semifinals in which Orlando dashed Boston's hopes of defending its 17th world championship.
"It’s a good fit," Rivers said. "I thought it was when he was there and I was surprised when they let him go, quite honestly. I thought he was perfect for that team because he didn’t need to be the star. He was a great complimentary player to Dwight and everyone else, and that was a good fit for him. Sometimes ... you think you can move guys around, move guys out, and I think they missed him."
--LOOSE BALLS: BABY'S BACK IS SORE; TECHNICAL DIFFICULTIES--
* Glen Davis scored a game-high 18 points (matching the output of Pierce and Robinson) while logging nearly 35 minutes off the bench, but said after the game his back is sore and that he planned to be examined by Lacerte to ensure it's nothing serious.
Davis didn't think he'd miss any time, but sported a big bandage while sitting on the bench and again in the locker room.
“I’m not sitting out," Davis said. "I don’t know what happened. I just woke up this morning and my back was hurting. I’ve got to find out from Ed. They’re going to examine me and make sure I’m OK, but I can play. It’s another bruise, something like a hangnail."
Told injuries are seemingly contagious on this team lately, Davis kept it light, noting he doesn't get injured and knocking on the wood paneling in his locker. Reminded he was hurt last season, a fractured right thumb that forced him to miss 27 games, Davis deadpanned, “I punched somebody in the face. Sorry about that."
* The Celtics and Pacers combined for four technical fouls: Pierce and Dahntay Jones got double technicals for jawing at one another near the Indiana bench midway through the second quarter ... Rivers got tagged for barking at an official early in the third quarter after several fouls went against Boston (including what appeared to be Davis absorbing a charge from Foster) ... Mike Dunleavy got one for arguing a non-call in the fourth frame. "I got fouled right in front of the ref," Dunleavy said. "He heard it, he saw it, he didn’t call it. So you’ve got to let him know that he made a mistake when they make a mistake."
* Sunday marked the 54th anniversary of Bill Russell signing his first contract with the Celtics. Russell had just returned to the states after leading USA Basketball to Olympic gold in Melbourne, Australia.