O’Neal staying on board
He flies with team, but doesn’t play
OKLAHOMA CITY — Shaquille O’Neal missed all three of the Celtics’ games last week, and coach Doc Rivers had no expectation that the 38-year-old big man would make the four-game road trip that started last night against the Thunder.
Then, he saw the 7-footer board the plane.
“I don’t even ask. I never do. If he’s healthy, he comes. If he’s not, he doesn’t,’’ Rivers said. “If he thinks he has a chance to play — and that’s between him and [trainer] Eddie [Lacerte], then he comes. But I never get involved in that. At least I try not to. I don’t ever want a player to feel like I’m pushing him.’’
Ever since Amar’e Stoudemire crashed into O’Neal’s right shin Oct. 29, the center has been sidelined with a bone bruise. After starting the first three games, and averaging 8.7 points and 5.3 rebounds in 20.7 minutes, he missed those next three, but he wanted to travel with the team in case he was able to play.
He didn’t suit up against the Thunder last night, but he hoped to for some of the other games.
“I’m always going on the trip unless it’s one of those out for 4-5 week diagnoses,’’ O’Neal said. “But I’m close . . . I just want to be out there at least at 80 percent with the guys. I don’t want to be out there halfway.’’
O’Neal said he’s currently at “65 percent’’ because the area behind his knee still keeps him from being able to run fully without pain.
“It’s just one little spot,’’ he said. “Once that goes away, it’ll be all right. Every time I run on my toes then I feel it. It slows me down.’’
There was a slight dropoff in offensive production down low in O’Neal’s absence. With O’Neal on the blocks, the Celtics averaged 46 points in the paint. With Jermaine O’Neal there primarily in the next three games, they averaged 42.6 paint points. Still, the Celtics pulled out overtime wins over the Bucks and Bulls, who have formidable bigs in Andrew Bogut and Joakim Noah.
“The guys are playing great right now,’’ Shaq said. “Everybody’s flowing, everybody’s playing good. Hopefully, the engine will be running well and every component, every part, will be at the same pace.
“I came here to play with the guys at a high level. So as soon as I get to 80 [percent], I’ll be back.’’
It’s a play that calls for double screens. Normally, the Celtics run it for Rajon Rondo. But in this case, Doc was experimenting, not just with Robinson but with other pieces of his second unit.
“This time,’’ he continued to bark, “tell Sehim [Erden] to roll.’’
Erden came up with Glen Davis to set picks for Davis at the free throw circle, then slipped down into the paint and gobbled up the feed from Robinson.
Hoop. Foul. Free throw.
The 3-point play put the Celtics up, 28-21, and helped them close the first quarter of their 92-83 win over Oklahoma City.
The contributions came from everywhere. Marquis Daniels, who had a huge first half in the win over the Bulls on Friday, scored all 7 of his points in the first quarter and also did his best to derail Kevin Durant. Davis took two more charges, upping his season total to 13, and scored 6 of his 18 points in the fourth quarter, stomping out a late Thunder run. Overall, the Celtics bench outscored Oklahoma City’s reserves, 33-12.
“They saved us,’’ Rivers said.
Robinson, who struggled to find a rhythm in the first six games (8 of 33 from the floor, 2 of 15 from 3-point range), scored 9 points on 4 of 7 shooting last night.
“We got a good flow for him,’’ Rivers said. “I’ve got to figure out, I’m still trying, what works for him offensively, where he can still be aggressive and still find guys. We came on that ‘45’ play . . . and he ran it well.’’
“At the end of the day, I think he decided that he could get more work done at home,’’ Rivers said. “He may join us at some point. My thing was we’re not going to practice until Miami. I told him if he thought he could get more work done at home then he could fly to Miami and meet us.’’
Julian Benbow can be reached at email@example.com.