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Celtics notebook

Fouls are fair game

Rivers not worried about Shaq tactics

By Frank Dell’Apa
Globe Staff / October 6, 2010

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WALTHAM — The Hack-a-Shaq late-game foul tactics have already started. The Celtics have not yet played a game — their first preseason contest is against the 76ers tonight in Manchester, N.H. — but their second unit provided a preview of what to expect during yesterday’s scrimmage at Healthpoint.

The starters, holding a 19-18 advantage with 21 seconds remaining, went to Shaquille O’Neal under the basket. Semih Erden wrapped his arms around O’Neal, who was awarded two foul shots. O’Neal shot-putted both free throws off the rim and in, then fist-pumped and danced his way back toward the defensive end.

This is a scene that could play out often this season, though the chances are not great of O’Neal converting both shots, since he has only topped .500 on free throws twice in the last seven seasons.

Asked if he was excited to clinch the result in the scrimmage, O’Neal replied, “I don’t get pumped up in preseason. I get pumped up in June.’’

O’Neal could have noted he shot a career playoff-best .660 from the foul line for Cleveland last season. But during 18 regular seasons, he has only once (2002-03) been more accurate from the free throw line than the field.

Coach Doc Rivers said he is not concerned about O’Neal drawing late-game fouls.

“No, because they’re going to do it,’’ Rivers said. “It depends on the game. If we’re taking advantage of it, we keep him in. If not, you make an adjustment.’’

The Celtics have confronted similar strategies with Rajon Rondo.

“I don’t mind,’’ Rivers said. “The way I look at it is guys are getting fouls. Hopefully, the right guys are fouling him and we can get them out of the game. We’ll have to deal with it.

“Listen, they Hack-a-Rondo’d last year at times. Even if they didn’t, any time at the end of the game, if they thought he had a drive, they just fouled him. Now, we’ve got two guys. But Rondo is going to make free throws and Shaq will be up and down.

“[Shaq] does so many things for you that I’m not that concerned. There’s a reason he has rings. He helps your team. He does a lot of good things for you.’’

The Celtics have spent training camp making adjustments defensively, attempting to integrate O’Neal into their system and also change their guards’ defending style.

“The one thing is the pick-and-roll coverage, we’ve got to shore up our pick-and-roll coverage,’’ Rivers said. “That’s where teams try and take advantage of Shaq. We’ve never had this. We’ve had Perk [Kendrick Perkins], guys who are pretty agile, and now we’ve got a big in Shaq who struggles moving up and down.

“Instead of focusing on Shaq, we’re focusing more on our guards — if you can get over the pick and square the ball up, our big doesn’t have to show, he doesn’t have to come out of the paint. As far as I’m concerned, he should never come out of the green, and if we do our coverages right, he won’t. We do them wrong, someone is going to hurt us.’’

Taking it in
Delonte West returned to practice after missing a day because of back spasms and is set to play tonight.

But Rivers said he is uncertain how much to play West, who was suspended by the NBA for the first 10 games of the season after pleading guilty to a gun charge this summer. West and Nate Robinson were in the second-team backcourt yesterday, with Von Wafer in reserve.

Said West, “I want to make a good impression, show these guys I’m here to win, I can be a contributor. Ten games is a lot of games, it’s only two weeks in reality, but it’s still a lot of games.

“The most important things, pregame, how guys are warming up, the first speech Doc is going to give before Game 1, those are the things I’m going to miss.

“That’s why going into the preseason I have to take in as much as I can and jump back in, so Nov. 17 I’ll be ready to go.’’

West on his reserve role: “It’s actually a plus, me coming off the bench because I can sit and see what we’re doing, how we’re attacking a team that night, see what we’re lacking, so I can come in or try and come in and pick up the slack or fit in where needed.’’

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

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