O’Neal, Cavs eye answers

Cleveland needs more from center

By Mark Blaudschun
Globe Staff / May 8, 2010

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His presence is more for show than being The Show. And no one is really surprised by that. When you have 18 years of NBA experience as Shaquille O’Neal does and when the calendar says that you just turned 38 (March 6) you can lower your expectations — especially when LeBron James is making things happen on a nightly basis.

But the playoffs are always different, especially coming off a loss like the Cleveland Cavaliers absorbed Monday night in Game 2 of their Eastern Division semifinal series against the Celtics.

Suddenly, the Cavaliers were looking for solutions heading into last night’s Game 3 at TD Garden. “We did some things we hadn’t done before,’’ said Cleveland coach Mike Brown before the game.

Brown wasn’t talking about good things. “Hopefully we can change those things.’’

The main focus for the Cavaliers was finding a way to slow Celtics point guard Rajon Rondo, who had scored 40 points and handed out 31 assists in the first two games.

Brown said one area of improvement he’s looking for could be more production from O’Neal.

“’’We’re working on ways we can help Shaq,’’ said Brown, after watching Celtics center Kendrick Perkins do just fine in his one-on-one confrontations with O’Neal.

The Celtics don’t feel it is necessary to double-team O’Neal, although some NBA teams still appear to be in a time warp and feel the 7-foot-1-inch, 325-pound O’Neal still can only be handled by committee.

O’Neal scored 20 points in the first two games, averaging a little more than 19 minutes of playing time. His best postseason effort was in the Cavaliers’ clinching 96-94 first-round win over the Bulls in Game 5 when he scored 14 points, grabbed 8 rebounds, handed out 3 assists, and had 1 steal and 1 block in 26 minutes.

Such efforts are rarer these days, but Brown said he wants more from O’Neal. And he wants to see less from Rondo. The Cavaliers had three days to think about what they did wrong and what they need to do right.

In Game 1 — a 101-93 Cavaliers victory — O’Neal scored 11 points and grabbed five rebounds. Not great, but good enough. In the Celtics’ 104-86 win Monday night, O’Neal scored 9 points and pulled down four rebounds. Good, but not good enough, especially during the third quarter when the Celtics blew the game open.

O’Neal is no longer the force he once was, but for given stretches he can be. O’Neal’s profile has been low profile this week as he absorbs what could be his last go-around in the NBA playoffs. He would like one more. So would James and the Cavaliers.

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