In only second game back, O’Neal makes his presence felt
Ex-Celtic taking a leadership role
MEMPHIS — After playing five straight games without Shaquille O’Neal and winning the past two with him on the floor, Celtics coach Doc Rivers can say with a fair degree of certainty life’s a lot easier when you have a 7-foot-1-inch, 325-pound giant towering over the painted area.
“Just the intimidation factor when he’s in the game,’’ Rivers said. “He gives us a presence that we haven’t had. There’s no doubt about that.’’
O’Neal returned Thursday night in the Celtics’ win over the Heat, and even though his line wasn’t the prettiest, the Heat knew he was there. LeBron James’s third-quarter car crash with O’Neal was enough of an alert.
“People know I’m a physical presence,’’ O’Neal said. “I take pride in not getting dunked on.’’
Last night in the Celtics’ 116-110 overtime win against the Grizzlies, O’Neal scored 18 points and grabbed six boards in his best game in a Celtics uniform this season.
“I told him after the Miami game, when you see him on the floor it changes our team,’’ Rivers said. “It makes us bigger. It makes us better.’’
Rajon Rondo dished out 17 assists, and a handful of them were lobs to O’Neal, who could finish around the rim with ease, either with a powerful two-hand flush or an agile reverse lay-in.
“I’ve got 28,000 points for a reason,’’ O’Neal said. “The buckets I got tonight, the rest of my career I’ll be able to get buckets like that. I’m not trying to back down, back down, back down. I’m too old for that. So Rondo penetrates, his man comes, lob, boom, bam, basket. If I can get 10 of those every game, I can get you 18 points a game.’’
With Jermaine O’Neal back in Boston getting his sore left knee examined, Shaquille O’Neal’s presence in a thin frontcourt was essential.
“He really set the tone,’’ said Paul Pierce. “We went to him early inside. He gave us some great minutes tonight in the second game back. He really set the tone. He was real physical, letting them know that we were going to play inside out and he established that for us.
Fighting for a rebound with Zach Randolph, Kevin Garnett took a hard spill with under a minute left in overtime, the thud of his head hitting the hardwood echoing through the building.
Randolph grabbed Garnett’s arm and slung him to the floor. As Garnett was stretched out under the basket, Rondo got face to face with Randolph before eventually calming down by talking with buddy Rudy Gay.
Garnett said, “I’m good, man. It’s that game, part of it.’’
On second thought
The Grizzlies shot 59.1 percent in the first quarter, doing their best to try to force the Celtics to trade baskets. The Celtics’ second unit slowed them down in the second quarter, holding them to 7 of 15.
“Our second-unit’s defense changed the game, because we were going to have a track meet in the first quarter and we were going to lose that game to them,’’ said Rivers, who praised Nate Robinson, who scored 10 of his 15 points in the first half.
Pierce admitted to a bit of taunting in his tweet after Thursday’s 112-107 victory over the Heat in Miami, but he said the media were making too much of his verbal jab.
After the victory, Pierce wrote, “It’s been a pleasure to bring my talents to south beach, now on to Memphis,’’ taking a poke at James’s statement during “The Decision’’ that he would take his talents to South Beach.
“It’s self-explanatory,’’ Pierce said. “There’s nothing else to talk about. What y’all want to talk about? I don’t need to add to it.
“Don’t get caught up in all this media hype. What’s wrong with y’all? You need to stop watching ‘SportsCenter,’ ESPN. C’mon, we’re better than that. Don’t get caught up in all that. It’s all smoke and it started a fire.’’