On a day many were calling him the team’s biggest weakness, Jermaine O’Neal turned in his biggest performance of the young season in the Celtics’ 96-85 win over the Detroit Pistons at TD Garden. O’Neal led the Celtics with 19 points and added 7 rebounds and two blocked shots in 28 minutes.
After the game, O’Neal credited the playing time for helping him reach those stats.
“[It helps] just playing extended minutes where you can get comfortable and get a rhythm,” said O’Neal. “The first couple of games I was in and out of there so fast it was almost impossible to get any flow to the game.”
O’Neal was decent in the opener against the Knicks, putting up six points, two rebounds, and two blocks in 17 minutes. He followed that up with two duds against the Heat and Hornets, scoring a combined six points in 22 and 21 minutes of play respectively. His 28 minutes tonight was a season-high, and he played well while also being aggressive and picking up four fouls by the third quarter.
“Stats really don’t matter to me,” said O’Neal. “Scoring is going to come and it’s going to go. Obviously I don’t want to be judged by how many points I score because it’s not my role on this team. It’s to hold down the defensive paint, block shots, take charges.”
O’Neal’s two blocks tonight probably took a back seat to the scoring, but he said he’ll take it.
“The way the season’s built you’ve got to stay positive,” said O’Neal. “You’re going to get the opportunity to shine the next night or another night … Tonight was a good night.”
O’Neal gave credit to his teammates, and Celtics coach Doc Rivers continued to emphasize team play after the game.
“He made shots, but the offensive part, to me, came from him doing his job,” said Rivers. “He kept setting picks on Ray [Allen] — and listen, JO’s no dummy. If you set a pick on Ray everyone’s jumping to Ray and he kept slipping it. He sought it early in the game. And that’s brilliant, though; he did his job by getting Ray open and he benefitted from it. And we benefitted from it.”
Setting pics for Allen doesn’t tell the entire story. O’Neal said he was happy to stay out of foul trouble. The Celtics were glad for that, too, but they were also happy to be able to play a halfcourt game with Detroit. O’Neal, and especially Kevin Garnett — fill in with the Celtics’ strength of halfcourt execution. The Celtics excel in the halfcourt — just look at the play they ran for Ray Allen on an inbounds right after halftime — and both O’Neal and Garnett do well in slow-down games. Against teams who don’t push the tempo, the Celtics will have their way.
“Jermaine was super tonight,” said Garnett. “He had a lot of energy to begin with. He was active … He controlled the defensive end.”
Those shocked at O’Neal’s output need only look at the style of game played, and O’Neal’s history as a player, to know that more good games are in store. Predicting when they’ll happen, however, might be more difficult.