THIS STORY HAS BEEN FORMATTED FOR EASY PRINTING

Celtics getting big boost

Jermaine O’Neal set to play tonight

By Julian Benbow
Globe Staff / March 31, 2011

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SAN ANTONIO — He was honest about it. Jermaine O’Neal has been out so long that he couldn’t remember the last time he practiced.

“I couldn’t even remember the last time I got on the team bus,’’ he said with a smile yesterday.

The last time he played a game for the Celtics was Jan. 12, more than two months ago. He has been rehabbing after undergoing arthroscopic surgery on his left knee and has been sidelined for 55 of the Celtics’ 73 games this season.

O’Neal rejoined the Celtics in Indiana Monday and is expected to play tonight against the Spurs after coach Doc Rivers saw the 32-year-old big man run through practice yesterday at the AT&T Center.

“I’m going to play,’’ O’Neal said. “We talked a little bit about me playing back-to-back games. Obviously, it’s sensitive, but I told them the plan is to play back-to-back games. The plan is to play as many minutes as I can without limitation.’’

Rivers joked, “I’m going to start him. Play him 40 minutes.’’

The Celtics practiced for 2 1/2 hours, and Rivers said, “I thought his quickness and his activity [were surprising]. He didn’t surprise me where he didn’t pick up some stuff. I don’t blame him for that, but I was happy. I was very happy with it.’’

During his absence, O’Neal worked out with trainer Tim Grover in Chicago, and Rivers said his conditioning was solid.

“I think he came out one time in practice,’’ said the coach.

O’Neal’s wind will dictate how much he plays.

“I think his lungs will be a good limitation for him,’’ Rivers said. “He’ll get tired quickly tomorrow.’’

One sequence in Monday’s loss to Indiana epitomized how things have been going for Nenad Krstic. On one end of the floor, A.J. Price jumped on Krstic’s back to keep him from catching a pass under the basket, but wasn’t called for a foul. At the other end, Krstic was whistled for a foul for grabbing Jeff Foster while trying to rebound one of Price’s missed free throws.

For a player who is trying not to second-guess himself on the floor, the mixed signals from officials haven’t helped.

“I’m back in my rookie year,’’ Krstic said. “When I was a rookie, I didn’t get many calls. So I feel like the same thing right now.

“Maybe it’s because I’m playing with great players. I don’t know. I really don’t have an explanation.’’

Rivers said, “That should have nothing to do with respect. That’s a foul. If you get corralled, where a guy jumps on you and starts riding you, it’s a foul on most nights.’’

Rivers has come down on Krstic for hanging his head after a bad play, telling him to move on to the next one.

“That stuff doesn’t help,’’ said Rivers. “Then you get fouled and now you’re really frustrated. You’re thinking, ‘I can’t make a shot. No one’s making calls for me.’ It just the way it is. It’ll work itself out for him.

“He was frustrated. But listen, it’s tough not getting frustrated, and I stay on him about that. He spends so much time thinking about the last play, and you can’t play in the last play. You can do something about the next play, you can do nothing about the last play.’’

Krstic acknowledged that it’s frustrating, but he’s trying to play through it.

“Those couple minutes you’re frustrated, but then you try to forget about it,’’ he said. “It affects you, especially this situation for me, when Coach is stressing for me to do everything right and just to relax and play, then you don’t get calls. It’s tough.’’

Halfway through the loss to the Pacers, Ray Allen took a look at the box score and saw he was 0 for 1.

The scorekeepers had him down for missing a layup from 3 feet in the opening minutes of the game. He touched the ball so little, he hardly remembered.

“I was like, ‘Did I take a shot?’ ’’ Allen said. “I don’t even remember taking a shot.’’

With Rajon Rondo and Paul Pierce slumping, and Kevin Garnett trying to assert himself more, Allen has gotten lost in the offense of late. The box score had him shaking his head.

“When it rains, it pours,’’ he said.

Allen has gone from taking 14.4 shots a night in February to 11.5 a night in March.

“He’ll get them,’’ Rivers said. “Ray goes through this every year. He goes through those little stretches where he overthinks.

“Today we ran a play at the end of practice, he was wide open and he took another dribble. He goes through this. It’s just part of the natural season.’’

In the 22 games in which Allen has scored 20 or more points, the Celtics are 18-4.

“Men lie, women lie, numbers don’t,’’ said Allen.

Julian Benbow can be reached at jbenbow@globe.com.

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