Celtics notebook

Injury puts crimp in Jermaine O’Neal’s learning curve

By Frank Dell’Apa and Julian Benbow
Globe Staff / October 5, 2010

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WALTHAM — Jermaine O’Neal will miss the Celtics’ opening two exhibition games this week because of a hamstring injury but is expected to return next week.

“I’m not really concerned about it,’’ O’Neal said. “I’m more concerned about being in with the guys and getting that chemistry up. The first four days [of training camp] were really good. I was just starting to get comfortable with the system, the philosophies, what Doc [Rivers] wanted, and also playing with those guys. It’s very difficult to learn areas of an offense or a defense when you’re not in there. So that’s probably the most frustrating part about it, but I don’t have any doubt in my mind that I’ll be back in there soon.’’

Shaquille O’Neal will be the starting center when the Celtics meet Philadelphia in their preseason opener in Manchester, N.H., tomorrow. Jermaine O’Neal said he would like to play “four or five’’ preseason games before the season opener against Miami Oct. 26.

“One thing about me, I think, over the years I’ve walked onto the court earlier than I was supposed to and it kind of lingered into something else,’’ Jermaine O’Neal said. “It’s not really that serious.’’

The injury occurred during a scrimmage last week in Newport, R.I.

“Holding up Shaq every damn day — it’s crazy, you do it four times a year, but doing it every day in practice is difficult,’’ Jermaine O’Neal said. “I boxed him out, got the rebound, and I went to turn up the court and that’s when I felt a little burning sensation. But if it was serious I wouldn’t be able to walk around, I wouldn’t be able to squat, I wouldn’t be able to do the stuff that I’m doing. I’m just making sure I’m ready come Oct. 26.’’

The intrasquad games have been productive, Jermaine O’Neal said.

“There’s nothing that another team can throw at us that we don’t see every day in practice,’’ he said. “This is a very prideful group of guys. You can tell when Doc blows the whistle, he just steps back, because guys will go super hard. They’re not competing to try to take another person’s time, they’re competing to make the other person better, and there’s a big difference between the two. Sometimes [a guy is] trying to take his time, but we’re not like that. We’re going to support whoever starts, whoever comes off the bench.’’

The games have also been hard-fought, O’Neal said.

“When you get an opportunity to score, which is rare, you’re talking about scrimmages ending up, like, 5-3,’’ he said. “It’s tough. But I know that’s going to make us better, going to make us more competitive, and when we get in a game it should be a little bit easier.’’

Both sides now
Shaquille O’Neal said he is comfortable with either the backup role or starting at center.

“I’ve done everything individually, more than anybody that’s in the game now, stats-wise,’’ he said. “I wasn’t brought here to put up big numbers, I was just brought here to fit in.

“I had the conversation with Doc, it doesn’t matter to me, I’ve been on both sides of the fence.

“Whatever this team needs me to do, that’s what I’m going to do.’’

Second helping
Paul Pierce on the play of the Celtics’ second team: “Truthfully, it feels like we’re in a game every day, our second unit is no joke. They’ve got a good chemistry going, there’s something about them.

“I really love our second team. I haven’t seen a second team like this since I’ve been in the league. I know I’m going to get better each and every day playing against them.’’

Pierce on Marquis Daniels: “He’s looking great, he’s the most versatile player on the second group. I think this is the most focused I’ve seen him since he’s been here. Maybe injuries had something to do with it, but he’s tuned in.

“He has a great IQ on defense. It seems like he’s always in the right spots, he’s always into his man, he has good lift on challenging shots, he has all the tools of a great defender.

“It’s all about the will, and he’s showing that will this year.’’

Bench press
Rivers’s priority this season was bolstering the bench. In fact, after deciding to return as coach, Rivers said his initial conversation with president of basketball operations Danny Ainge concerned the reserves. “The first thing I said to Danny was, we need to get an entire second unit this year,’’ Rivers said. “Whatever we need to do to get it. On nights we play old, to have a second unit to bail you out, when you have injuries, you have a second unit. There will be nights when both units are playing well, or when one of the two units — it gives you a great chance. And guys will be fresh all year.’’ Rivers added, “Our championship year, at times we went nine and 10 deep, but we really haven’t since then. We’re going to have the opportunity to have five other guys on the floor. Obviously, late in the season I make sure we have two starters on the floor at all times. But I think to get through the regular season and win games we’re going to have to extend our bench minutes.’’ . . . Delonte West (back spasms) did not practice . . . Tony Gaffney, released by the Celtics last week, signed with Turk Telekom in Ankara.

Julian Benbow can be reached at

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