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Health is front, center

By Frank Dell’Apa
Globe Staff / April 4, 2011

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Jermaine and Shaquille O’Neal were healthy enough to play a combined 23 minutes in the Celtics’ 101-90 win over Detroit last night, but only four minutes came in the second half, a sign of their fragility.

Shaquille logged 5:29 before leaving with a strained right calf. Jermaine was willing to go beyond the 17:40 he played, but the Celtics do not want to push him — yet.

“We have to have one of the [O’Neals],’’ coach Doc Rivers said. “I’ll take two, but we have to have one.’’

So the ups and downs of the Celtics centers continue. Having Nenad Krstic (knee) available for tomorrow night’s game against Philadelphia and getting Jermaine O’Neal back in the rotation are definite ups.

“It felt good to be back,’’ Jermaine said. “Again, it’s just going to be about progression. [It] was the first day I felt sore going into the game. I didn’t even know I was going to start until the shootaround, but we got into the weight room, did some leg stuff, got loose, and that’s kind of the process.

“[Today] will be good to get a practice in, get me acquainted with the new system. We changed some plays so I’m kind of learning on the fly and asking [Rajon] Rondo at the same time during the game where I’m supposed to be.’’

O’Neal got to his spot in the low post for a hook shot early in the second quarter, and he was able to run the floor for a layup early in the second half. Mostly, though, he was a strong presence underneath.

That is major progress for O’Neal, who underwent arthroscopic knee surgery Feb. 4, and returned to action last week.

“All in all it’s a little better than the Atlanta game,’’ he said. “I’ve never been concerned about the knee and having setbacks, it’s more about the body being sore, with the banging and stuff like that.

“But, collectively, I passed all the tests I was supposed to pass, so I was pretty excited about that.’’

O’Neal is eager to go beyond his predetermined minute limit.

“I thought I was going to play a little more [last night],’’ he said. “Obviously, I didn’t play as much in the second half. I’m sure with the practices and the back-to-back games coming up, hopefully we can get this thing going.’’

And he expressed optimism about Shaquille O’Neal.

“He seemed to be in good spirits when he left,’’ Jermaine said. “You know, he may be back on Tuesday.

“He was laughing and joking. It was more of a scare for the guys on the team and I’m sure for the fans of the Celtics. But [he needs] some practice time. Because he hasn’t had the ability to practice, he was kind of learning on the fly, so he wasn’t able to test a lot of things. And he just kind of tweaked it, and, hopefully for us, we can get him back soon, because he got off to a great start.’’

Frank Dell’Apa can be reached at f_dellapa@globe.com.

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