O’Neal and Celtics win, lose West
On a downer of a night in which the Celtics lost Delonte West for perhaps several weeks to a broken wrist, they depended on a man who had declared his team-carrying days were over.
Shaquille O’Neal has been a pleasant surprise since arriving in Boston, hardly uttering a word of complaint about being mostly the fifth option in the team’s offense. But with the rest of his teammates bumbling offensively like one of those “Three Stooges’’ marathons, O’Neal reached back to his past for some dominant moments.
He collected his first 20-10 double-double since April 2009, scoring 25 points and 11 rebounds, including 7 points in the fourth quarter, as the Celtics outlasted the game New Jersey Nets, 89-83, last night at TD Garden.
The atmosphere was sullen for a long stretch after West broke his right wrist when he landed awkwardly during a driving layup with 2:48 left in the second quarter. West was on the floor for several moments and Paul Pierce finally had to commit a foul to stop the action. West walked off the court holding the wrist, and X-rays later revealed the break.
He could miss three months, and coach Doc Rivers said he is preparing for the long term without his backup point guard. The Celtics already are playing without Rajon Rondo, who has missed the past three games with a sore left hamstring.
“It’s going to be a long time, let’s put it that way,’’ Rivers said of West. “I thought we had that one stretch that like took the life out of our team . . . I think we missed five point-blank layups following Delonte’s injury. I mean you could see the life go out of everybody.’’
O’Neal remained poised, though, scoring at will at times against the overmatched Brook Lopez. He drained two free throws to tie the score at 65 with 9:42 left and then, after a Glen Davis block of a Derrick Favors layup, Ray Allen pushed the ball and lofted a perfect alley-oop to O’Neal, who slammed it down for a 2-point lead.
The Celtics never trailed again. On that pass, Allen might as well have been Anfernee Hardaway or Derek Fisher, because it certainly was vintage Shaq.
“I know I can do [the old stuff], that’s why Danny [Ainge] signed me up and I’m still here,’’ he said. “That’s why I’ve accomplished so much. At the time I’m not really getting a lot of plays called for me, but guys are dropping it off and I am finishing.’’
The Celtics hoped O’Neal would produce 10 points and perhaps six rebounds per outing. After last night, he is averaging 11.8 points, 6.8 rebounds, and shooting 67.1 percent from the field.
“He looked like the 2000 Shaq. The ’99 Shaq, the 2001 and 2002 to 2003 to 2004 to 2005 to 2006,’’ forward Kevin Garnett joked. “He looked fresh tonight. I thought he did a great job of getting us in a bonus early. On this team night in and night out, we are going to have a different guy from [Pierce] to Ray to anybody, and tonight it was Shaq.’’
Rivers had to scramble with West out and Nate Robinson picking up three early fouls in a difficult matchup with Devin Harris. Marquis Daniels played most of the third quarter and collected two assists and two steals, his length giving Harris and Jordan Farmar trouble.
Lopez started the second half with a jumper and New Jersey led, 48-38, but the Celtics chipped away during the third quarter, getting hoops by Pierce, O’Neal, and Allen to tie the score at 59. Their defensive intensity spread into the fourth quarter, as the Celtics held New Jersey to 7-for-24 shooting (29.2 percent) and zero points from cornerstone Lopez.
An Allen 3-pointer with 3:26 left widened the Celtics lead to 78-72 and then Pierce followed with consecutive jumpers to help Boston avoid another embarrassing defeat.
Afterward, the thoughts shifted to West, who was not available for comment. On the second-quarter drive, West was knocked off balance by New Jersey’s Travis Outlaw. He attempted to brace his fall, and his right hand was caught under his body.
“He’s sort of a guy that if he’s injured, you are going to know when he’s injured because he’s going to get right back up usually 99 percent of the time,’’ Pierce said. “When I saw the look on his face I knew it was bad.’’
West was led to the locker room by head trainer Ed Lacerte and team doctor Brian McKeon.
“Tough, tough losing Delonte,’’ Garnett said. “It’s tough losing anybody, but having to be responsible and sit down for [a 10-game suspension] and come back and give us a huge lift, especially with Rondo out, and then to lose him, it’s tough.’’
The Celtics were plain awful in the first half, allowing the Nets to shoot nearly 57 percent and letting Anthony Morrow and Harris combine for 21 points in racing to a 46-38 lead.
Previous losses to Oklahoma City and Toronto could be attributed to lack of interest, but the Celtics simply didn’t execute in the first 24 minutes last night.
Take away O’Neal’s 12 points on 6-for-7 shooting and the Celtics were 12 for 34 from the field with one made free throw. They were passive offensively and missed several open shots.
In one late second-quarter sequence, Davis took an entry pass, dribbled to create position, and fumbled the ball out of bounds. Rivers called a play for Allen to end the half and his floater rimmed out. The coach slapped his hands in disgust.
The Big Three was a combined 4 for 14 in the first half while Robinson and O’Neal each picked up three fouls.