The Celtics have avoided putting Shaquille O'Neal on the floor in late-game scenarios hoping to avoid potential Hack-a-Shaq situations. But on a night incumbent crunch-time center Glen Davis struggled offensively, The Big Shamrock answered the call as Boston tightened up defensively over the final six minutes of regulation.
“Nothing else was working," admitted Celtics coach Doc Rivers. "As a coach, sometimes, really, you just try and mix it up. I thought Shaq had great energy tonight. I thought he was disruptive in the paint. I thought they really struggled with him in pick-and-rolls with Paul [Pierce]. And I thought, with Baby, they may switch on Paul. But if [Pierce] could pull [the defender], Shaq could go down the middle. If Shaq didn’t have dunks, somebody else would get open."
Sure enough, there was Pierce and Shaq working key late-game pick-and-rolls, including one in which Pierce buried a 19-foot jumper with 1:36 to play that helped seal the victory. O'Neal hit a pair of key free throws in the final five minutes (though he missed another that could have took some of the drama out of the final moments).
O'Neal finished with 13 points on 5-of-8 shooting with nine rebounds over 27 minutes, 25 seconds of action (much inflated from his usual 22 minutes per game).
"Shaq was big for us in the second half," said Kevin Garnett. "He did a great job of drawing fouls and we did a better job of finding him as he drove in....[O'Neal was] huge for us when we needed him. Usually, he's not in there, during that course of the game, but he was big for us. He got us into the bonus with fouls. When you have Shaq in there, it's a luxury.
"He’s like a black hole, he sucks everything in. Ray [Allen], Paul and the perimeter guys, even myself, get open shots we don't normally have. He's a luxury."
--DOC ON BROWN'S DEPARTURE IN CHARLOTTE: 'DISTURBING'--
Rivers, a close confidante of Brown, nearly lured the Hall of Fame coach to Boston as a top assistant before the 2007-08 championship season. The two remain close and talk regularly throughout the season.
"It's disturbing," said Rivers. "I have a great relationship with Larry. It's just tough. He's a great coach, you know -- it's tough. It's our business, as we've learned way too much."
Bobcats owner Michael Jordan announced Brown's departure Wednesday afternoon after Charlotte's lackluster 9-19 start.
"I met with Coach Brown two weeks ago about the team's performance and what we could do to improve it," said Jordan. "We met again this morning after practice. The team has clearly not lived up to either of our expectations and we both agreed that a change was necessary."
Philadelphia coach Doug Collins, who mans the post Brown held down for seven seasons with the 76ers, express admiration and gratitude for what Brown's accomplished in a decorated career.
"Larry's one of the all-time great coaches. The guy has won an NBA championship, an NCAA championship, he was a great point guard at [North] Carolina, he won an Olympic championship and was an Olympic coach. I mean, he's done it all," Collins said. "He opened a lot of doors for coaches like myself, because any time former players stepped in and did well, it gave other former players the chance to do the same thing. It sounds, from what I'm hearing, that Michael [Jordan will] keep him on in advisory capacity. It will be interesting to see what happens."
--LOOSE BALLS: TOO MUCH POINT FORWARD; DOC'S LINE OF THE NIGHT--
* KG on his late-game block on Andre Iguodala: “Last time we played them, Paul told me Iguodala loves to go right, finish right, and Paul funneled him. We talked about some things, some schemes, this morning about sending him to the defense, we did that and I just got the block."
* Pierce, the reigning Eastern Conference Player of the Week, labored through 4-of-15 shooting (making just 1-of-4 3-pointers) for 11 points over 33:53. After back-to-back games with double-digit assists in Rajon Rondo's absence, Pierce accounted for only two assists while enduring foul trouble throughout the night (he also got tagged with a technical for barking at officials).
“Man, I got frustrated, I got a technical," said Pierce. "I know I was frustrated tonight, just in a game where you’re trying to get rhythm and game is off balance and calls are being called each and every way, it’s hard to get in rhythm . It was definitely frustrating tonight. Sometimes that happens, you let the refs get the best of you and, obviously, it affected my play. But somehow, someway, we found a way to grind it out."
* Garnett picked up his fourth technical of the season for also yapping at the officials when calls leaned heavy in favor of the 76ers early on. Garnett now has four technicals this year, but this was his first that didn't come as a double technical.
* Rivers thought Pierce expended too much energy as primary ball-handler and suggested Nate Robinson has to command that role more often. "Nate brings the ball up, that's it," said Rivers. "Nate just allowed [Pierce] to bring it up. Nate just has to go get the ball more. He will."
Rivers might have to hammer that message home a little harder. Robinson said after the game he's going to defer to the captain in that situation. The Celtics need to find a good balance without Rondo quarterbacking the team.
* Rivers produced the laugh of the night before the game. The media arrived to find copies of Shaquille O'Neal on the latest issue of the Improper Bostonian, this on the heels of his conducting debut Monday night with the Boston Pops. Rivers was asked if he's ever had a player that has enjoyed himself as much off-the-court, the coach deadpanned: "Well, I have, but not in that way."
* Quick hits from pregame notes: Jermaine O'Neal, who had missed 18 straight games with lingering left knee soreness, sat out Wednesday's game with the flu, according to Rivers... The Celtics do not expect to have Rondo available for Saturday's showdown in Orlando, but Rivers did not he's moving better as he recovers from a left ankle sprain.