Boston Celtics: Shaquille O'Neal
Go figure, Shaquille O'Neal finally helped the Boston Celtics in a postseason series against the Miami Heat. It just came a year later than expected.
The Celtics held out hope last season that O'Neal could get on the floor for the conference semifinals, but his Achilles never allowed it (and Boston was bounced in five games by the Heat). After Boston won Game 5 of this year's Eastern Conference finals over Miami on Tuesday night, Mickael Pietrus suggested O'Neal deserved some credit.
Pietrus made a pair of monster 3-pointers over the final six minutes as part of a 13-point outburst that helped the Celtics to a 94-90 triumph at American Airlines Arena. Boston leads the series, 3-2.
Invited to the postgame podium alongside Rajon Rondo and Paul Pierce, Pietrus credited O'Neal for some encouraging words.
“Yesterday I got a text from Shaq that said, ‘Just keep believing and keep playing,’ so that’s what I did," Pietrus said.
Pietrus' first big shot came in what might have been the game's biggest play. With Miami ahead by six with little more than six minutes to go, Dwyane Wade scrambled to produce a monster block on Brandon Bass at the rim. The ball lofted out toward the free throw line, where Rajon Rondo not only outleaped LeBron James and Mario Chalmers, but had the presence of mind to deflect the ball to a wide-open Pietrus on the right wing.
"When Rondo took that rebound and kicked it out to me, I knew I had to take the shot and make it," Pietrus said. "That’s what I did.”
With Boston down a point with three minutes to play, Pietrus produced another key hustle play by chasing down an offensive rebound of a Ray Allen miss (kept alive by another quick-thinking Rondo poke). The ball eventually ended up in Garnett's hands and he buried a baseline jumper to push Boston back out front.
After Miami answered, Pietrus again came up big. This time a loose-ball scramble left Pietrus open in the corner and an alert Pierce swung the ball to him for a triple and an 85-83 lead with 2:11 to play.
"One thing you know about MP is he's going to shoot it," Celtics coach Doc Rivers said. "He's been down this road before. He played with Orlando, made big shots, had big defensive stops, was very comfortable. The thing I loved, he didn't hesitate on either (3-pointer). He actually slowed down a little bit to gather himself and took two big 3s for us."
Rivers also noted the Rondo tip-pass play.
"I thought the play Rondo made for us was absolutely sensational to get MP the one 3," Rivers said. "It was on a long rebound (of a) blocked shot. And Rondo not only saved it, but he saved it toward one of our shooters. I thought that was maybe the biggest play of the game."
TIMES-PICAYUNE: SHAQ DISCUSSES RETIREMENT, NBA, FUTURE
"At 39, I wasn’t mentally on the down slope. But I used to feel really terrible after scoring eight points. This ain’t me, the Diesel scoring eight points. My mind was on winning the whole thing, and we had a chance to get the second spot [in the Eastern Conference], and we ended up getting the fourth spot. I even told Danny Ainge not to do the Kendrick Perkins deal with Oklahoma City. I told them I might not be ready, and I’m definitely not coming back. Those guys did what they’ve got to do. I wasn’t surprised; I’ve seen it before. They say all that blah, blah, but you know it’s always going to be something different."
Shaq also thinks the Celtics could have won a title if he was a healthy and talks about the Achilles injury that left him unable to contribute late in the season.
"I’m so used to playing at a high level, and I hated reading articles of me playing at a regular level. When you get a certain age, a lot of people really don’t know what you can do. I just had to play a role, and I wasn’t comfortable with that. I truly believe that if I didn’t get injured, we (Celtics) would have beaten Miami, and we could have beaten Dallas. Usually when it’s really a bad injury, you get one (cortisone) shot, and then you feel better and play. But I got shot after shot, and I was scared to get an MRI. I knew my Achilles’ tendon was ripped the whole time. I did everything from acupuncture, cortisone and therapy. It felt good when I initially came back, but I ripped it some more."
* SHAQ: MIAMI'S 'BIG 2': Making his analyst debut Tuesday as part of NBA TV's coverage of the 2011-12 schedule release, former Celtics center Shaquille O'Neal didn't waste any time attracting headlines by jabbing Miami forward Chris Bosh. From the Associated Press:
During NBA TV's show Tuesday to announce the league's schedule for the 2011-12 season -- one jeopardized by a lockout -- O'Neal referred to the Heat as having a "Big 2." Since Bosh, Wade and James teamed up in Miami, they've been called the "Big 3" in many circles.
"The Miami Heat, they've got a lot of great players, the `Big 2.' They will be back," O'Neal said from Louisiana during the broadcast, when discussing the NBA finals and how Dallas was able to beat Miami for the title. "LeBron James is taking a lot of criticism, but I know LeBron very well. He hears everything that everyone is saying, so I think he's going to come back and have an MVP year this year."
During his debut, Shaq also again squashed any thoughts of a return to the hardwood next season, but predicted a strong campaign for Boston. He did opine that an "underdog" would emerge as NBA champ, however.
* 5-ON-5: SCHEDULE THOUGHTS: In the latest edition of ESPN.com's 5-on-5 series, five writers tackle five questions about the 2011-12 schedule. A couple Celtics references sprinkled in among the questions, including whether the team should be playing on the league's opening night (Mavericks vs. Bulls opens the season and Boston debuts a night later vs. Cleveland).
* C'S LOSE COACHING ASSOCIATE, VIDEO COORDINATOR: Celtics coaching associate Darren Erman is expected to join the Golden State Warriors as an assistant coach next season, as first reported by Yahoo! on Tuesday. Earlier this week, Harvard announced that Celtics video coordinator Brian Adams will join its men's basketball staff as an assistant coach. While much of the offseason front office focus is on whether top assistant Lawrence Frank will be back with the team, the Celtics are losing two diligent workers that did a lot to aid the team behind the scenes.
As part of ESPN.com's latest edition of 5-on-5, five writers opined on O'Neal's future, including whether he'd ever consider a return to action. Here are the responses:
J.A. Adande, ESPN.com: No and no. When I saw him at his retirement party he was still in pain and he hadn't played in weeks. His body can't take it anymore. Time for him to spend game nights sitting in a chair.
Mathew Lewis, Queen City Hoops: No. Shaq is a guy with a lot of pride. Unless he believes he can come back and truly play at a relatively high level, I think he stays retired. Shaq was never one to play second or third fiddle, and I think now even he's realized his physical limitations.
Spencer Wellesley Percy, Queen City Hoops: Since the 2007-08 season Shaq played only an average of 43 games per season, which is about half the season. The question shouldn't be will Shaq play again, but why would any team want to bring him on board? He simply can't guarantee a healthy body at any time at this point in his career.
Kyle Weidie, Truth About It: It depends on how content he'll be with the spotlight in the studio, which is much smaller than the one on the hardwood. If there's a shortened season, and if Shaq keeps himself in shape (yeah, right), then his attention-seeking will reign supreme and he'll sign with a title contender.
Royce Young, Daily Thunder: No chance. Shaq wasn't the type of player that lived, breathed and slept basketball. He was never that ultimate competitor that couldn't function without the game. I'm sure basketball came first, but it wasn't everything. So I don't think he's going to get the itch to go back to having to run and, you know, stay in shape and all.
* Forsberg's thoughts: A shortened season, especially if that right Achilles starts feeling better in the aftermath of surgery, is going to undoubtedly make Shaq wonder if he should have stuck around for one more run. In the end, however, he'll remember all the hours of rehab he put in just to get onto the court for a mere 12 minutes of playoff action last season. It was time to walk away (or hobble away while he still could). Being on the TNT set will keep Shaq in the spotlight and give him even more time to be a social media maven.
Sources close to the team confirmed that the Celtics had no involvement in purchasing the vehicle.
O'Neal's girlfriend, Nicole Alexander, suggested on Twitter that the couple will utilize the tenement on wheels to trek to the West Coast and back.
Shaq, of course, has RV experience. He'd make a great Cousin Eddie in a Christmas Vacation sequel (and no, we won't acknowledge THIS).
(Updated July 11 to reflect C's not involved in purchase.)
* Flanked by his college coach, LSU's Dale Brown, O'Neal made sure to single out two other coaches during the early portion of his speech: Phil Jackson of the Lakers and Doc Rivers of the Celtics. O'Neal spoke glowingly of Rivers, who was supposed to attend, but had to cancel due to a family commitment.
“Playing for Doc Rivers this year was very, very special," said O'Neal. "There's a lot of talent on that [Celtics] team and [Rivers] always, always, always focused on the team. I came in after going 5-for-6 [shooting from the field] and I'd say, 'Coach, I can go 10-for-12, or 12-for-18.' And he'd say, 'Shaq, it's not about you, it's about the team.' So, thank you, Doc."
* O'Neal reiterated much of what he told ESPN Boston's Jackie MacMullan the day of his retirement, including that surgery around the ailing right Achilles likely meant a nine-month recovery and he didn't want to hold the fans of Boston hostage for another season. He said he wanted to alert Celtics president of basketball operations Danny Ainge of his intentions to retire immediately as to allow the team to start the process of getting younger and more athletic. O'Neal again stressed a disappointment in being unable to stay on the floor, saying he felt like he let the city down. He called the Celtics a "beautiful organization" and suggested there's still championship potential moving forward.
Click HERE to read more about O'Neal's retirement.
Shaquille O'Neal phoned into Mike & Mike Friday morning in advance of his retirement press conference at his home in Orlando. Click HERE to read more from his interview, or check out the video embedded above.
O'Neal also phoned into Boston sports radio WEEI (850 AM), where he talked about his final season in Boston and how much of a factor injuries were in Boston's early exit.
"I think if everything goes right [Boston can contend for a title next season]," said O'Neal. "A lot of people weren’t talking about it, but Kevin [Garnett] was very banged up. He never complained. Also a great player, a future Hall of Famer. A lot players were banged up. Paul [Pierce] was banged up there at the end. We just couldn’t get it going."
Click HERE to read a complete transcript on WEEI.com.
“He’s overjoyed, he’s comfortable, he’s relaxed,” MacMullan said. “He was actually just a few minutes ago jumping up and down about the possibility of having sausage and biscuits. This guy, believe me, is ready to retire.”
Later on SportsCenter, Shaq makes a cameo in a couple of live video segments with Jeannine Edwards. Check it out HERE.
O'Neal had been asked if he had any allegiances to the Celtics as a kid, which launched him into story mode:
"Not at all. I was a Magic Johnson man. True story: I had a best friend in Georgia, this white guy named Mitch Rawls [note: forgive us if the spelling is incorrect]. He looked just like Larry Bird. He was Bird and I was Magic. We were best friends, but we'd fight every day. We'd have seven-game series every day and we used to fight. Then when I moved to Germany, his father got transferred with my father, so we just kept it going over there.
"I didn't like the Celtics because my best friend was Bird. He had the same little nose as Bird and the long hair. And I hated him, so I hated [the Celtics] guts. As I became a student of the game, I found out about this great team and all the great players, all the Hall of Famers. Then I met Larry Bird one day, coming out of college, and Larry Bird said I was going to be the best player in the world. I always thought that was a compliment from the great Larry Bird."
Asked about any particularly memorable moments from that childhood rivalry, O'Neal's eyes lit up.
"I remember one time, I pushed him out of bounds and he shot that [expletive] over the backboard, just like Bird did [in a 1986 preseason game against the Houston Rockets]. He shot it right over the [expletive] backboard and it went in. He's running around and so we got into a fight. I beat him up. It was intense. Mitch Rawls. Maybe he'll find this and give me a call."
Shaq's got plenty of free time now. Give him a call, Mitch.
Play Podcast ESPN NFL analyst Tim Hasselbeck talks about Patriots-Vikings, Bears-49ers, Jets-Packers, the state of the Giants, Falcons-Bengals and more.
Play Podcast The ESPN Boston High School Football crew reflects on Week 1 and looks ahead to this weekend's slate of games.