Celtics reserve center Jermaine O'Neal sat out the second half of Friday's game with left knee soreness, an injury that has already sidelined him for 20 games this season.
“His knee was sore, so I knew in the second half I wasn’t going to go with him," said Celtics coach Doc Rivers. "And we had a lead, so we just looked at it and, if we could get him through this game and maybe play him tomorrow, it would be great."
O'Neal's status for Saturday's game in Chicago is uncertain. He sat out the second half of a loss to the Dallas Mavericks on Nov. 8, then missed the next 19 games as he rehabbed a surgically repaired knee that's hindered him in the latter stages of his career.
"[The knee] was a little sore before the game, but at halftime he came to me and said, ‘Man, my knee’s sore,’" said Rivers. "I think his knee’s sore for the rest of his life. But there’s going to be different degrees of pain."
O'Neal, who had shined defensively over the last four games, finished with four points and two rebounds over 8:39. Rookie Semih Erden, who hasn't been on the court for the last seven games in part due to a stomach bug, played 6:14 in the second half, scoring two points and grabbing a rebound.
--HELP IS ON THE WAY FOR STREAKING C'S--
The "injury-depleted" Celtics scorched the field for the second straight game, shooting 57.5 percent (46 of 80) while scoring a season-high 122 points (aiding only the third appearance of Gino, the JumboTron dancer, this season). It makes you wonder what Boston is capable of should it ever get healthy. Which could happen sooner than previously thought.
Rivers suggested Friday that Kevin Garnett (strained right calf) could be back on the floor as early as Monday's visit from the Houston Rockets, while Kendrick Perkins dropped a bit of a bombshell by suggesting he could be back in game action before month's end.
Meanwhile, Delonte West, who had targeted a mid-January return after fracturing his right wrist in mid-November, is cautiously pushing that date backwards, but still sounds optimistic about his chances to return to action before the All-Star break.
For a Boston team that was fighting the war of attrition to close out 2010, the prospects of 2011 are getting brighter.
"It probably does [give Boston a boost]," Rivers said of Perkins' impending return. "Right now, it gives us energy when anyone comes back on the floor. It'll help him out, it'll help our team. It'll allow me to manage minutes better Shaq and Jermaine, so it'll do a lot of things."
But Rivers thinks West's return might be the key moving forward.
“It’ll mean a lot more for Nate and the second unit,” said Rivers. “The tough part with Delonte is he was just starting to get our stuff again then -- bam -- he’s out. Now we have to re-do that. Even though he’s been here, there are different things and it’ll take some time. The sooner we can get him back, he may be even more important than Perk in some ways.”
--LOOSE BALLS: TRIANO CALLS C'S BEST IN EAST; LIMITING MINUTES--
* After seeing the Celtics' six times over the past 89 days, Toronto coach Jay Triano offered lofty praise: "When you look at that team, there’s a reason they're the best team in the East right now. They're physically stronger than us and quicker than us at all five positions. They go where they want to go offensively, they know how to use screens, set screens, and for some of our young guys, and our guys battling injuries, we can’t match up with that, that physical play, it makes for a long night."
* A comfortable lead -- even thought it dipped to uncomfortable levels at times during the second half -- allowed the Celtics to limit minutes for their starters, particularly with the second night of a back-to-back looming Saturday in Chicago.
“It was great," said Rivers. "One of the things we decided was, when we had the lead, I thought, ‘I’m going to sub [Rajon] Rondo out early in the third.’ And that way Nate can play with all the starters and so when we bring all the other guys in, Rondo could go back in and run that club. And that’s why we did that. Because we had the lead to do it."
Glen Davis logged a high of 33 minutes for the starters, while the other four all stayed below 30.
* Former Celtics forward Leon Powe, a member of the 2008 championship team, will miss six weeks to repair a torn meniscus. It's the latest setback for a player who has endured numerous knee ailments during his career. Powe has appeared in 14 games for the Cavaliers this season, averaging 5 points and 2.7 rebounds per game.