On Basketball

Big problems with this

By Gary Washburn
December 26, 2010

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ORLANDO, Fla. — If you recall, Celtics fans, the reason Glen “Big Baby’’ Davis slipped so dramatically in the 2007 draft was because scouts considered him undersized.

And team president Danny Ainge went out of his way this summer to load the roster with centers for the express purpose of depth. Yet, Davis is probably the Celtics’ most productive center as Kendrick Perkins recovers from right knee surgery.

The signing of future Hall of Famer Shaquille O’Neal and perennial All-Star Jermaine O’Neal has done nothing to lighten the load on Davis, who, following Boston’s 86-78 loss to the Orlando Magic yesterday, looked like James Brown after an all-night concert.

He could barely muster the strength to talk, which is what playing a season-high 39 minutes, mostly against Dwight Howard, will do. The Celtics were hurt in many areas by injuries in this Christmas Day matchup in the palatial Amway Center.

Nate Robinson couldn’t adequately fill in for Rajon Rondo (ankle), who worked out before the game but is still at least a few games from returning. Although Perkins said he is closer to coming back than he believed a few days ago, the Celtics couldn’t compensate for Shaquille O’Neal’s foul trouble and Jermaine O’Neal’s ineffectiveness.

Jermaine O’Neal gets a pass because he hadn’t played in six weeks, although it appeared his hands, which flubbed a few crisp passes, were still on the inactive list. Shaquille O’Neal once again allowed the officials and his stubbornness to dictate his impact on the game, fouling out in a mere 13 minutes.

What’s more, he is averaging 7.7 fouls per 48 minutes and is 12th in the league in fouls per game. While a nagging calf injury has limited his production, foul trouble has become a bigger issue. The Celtics needed the big man for more than 13 minutes yesterday and he let them down with a couple of useless fouls against Howard.

The sixth and final foul was the most absurd, as he pushed Howard, who was running down the floor three seconds after scoring his first basket of the game with 9:23 to play. The Celtics were outscored, 24-11, as he sat stewing on the bench.

O’Neal is savvy enough to know when the games are being called tightly and still unreasonable enough to alter his style when those occasions arise. Yesterday was one of those occasions, and O’Neal, as he did in Cleveland after an Oct. 27 loss, didn’t hide his disdain for official Bob Delaney, whom he referred to by his uniform number — 26.

“We could have won the game, but two premier big men out there, he’s pushing and I’m pushing, they didn’t let us play,’’ he said. “I guess they came to see No. 26 play. He was a great player out there today. [Fans] paid all that money to come watch No. 26 play. I just wondered why I never got that [push] call in 20 years. Different game, I guess.

“If I was a fan, I would be pissed. You pay all that money for good seats, you have two of the best guys in the country sitting on the bench out of the game. This is what happens when you have control freaks out there.’’

When asked whether he would change his defensive approach, considering his current one draws so many fouls, he said, “I’m not adjusting, ever.’’

So if Shaq is going to stay the same, soak up fouls and give the bench a 300-pound cheerleader, then Perkins needs to come back faster than expected or Jermaine O’Neal can’t take several weeks to blend into the system. Yesterday was his eighth game and it’s difficult to determine whether Jermaine O’Neal can make a significant contribution.

He wants to be more involved in the offense, but coach Doc Rivers made it clear in training camp that they don’t need O’Neal reliving his glory days. In 10 minutes against the Magic, he missed three shots and committed four fouls.

Davis, indeed, is the Celtics’ most productive and reliable center and that’s a discouraging sign for Ainge and Rivers. The O’Neals have to respond with better defense, more rebounding, and savvier play.

Shaquille O’Neal can’t stand there with his hands raised and chest bump an opponent driving to the basket and expect to draw a charge. And standing there with that “Who me?’’ look isn’t exactly reminiscent of the acting of Sir Laurence Olivier.

Somehow, Shaquille has to swallow his pride and understand his importance to the depth of this team.

Perkins said that he could be back within a month, but Rivers is hardly going to throw him back into the fray after major knee surgery. His minutes will be monitored.

Meanwhile, it’s difficult to expect consistency from rookie Semih Erden, who missed yesterday’s game with a sore groin and a bug. He has been a pleasant surprise, but, as the games get more difficult, the opponents tougher, and the scouting more precise, Erden’s impact may decline.

“Foul trouble and fouling out hurt us because we had to stretch the bench even more,’’ Rivers said. “When you are low in numbers and you get foul trouble by anybody, you have major issues.

“Because Shaq’s in foul trouble, we had to keep Baby out there. And the pick-and-rolls down the stretch where we had to show, honestly, I don’t know if Baby could show.

“He was exhausted. I told him, ‘I couldn’t take you off the floor. I knew you were exhausted. Shaq’s in foul trouble, I had nowhere else to go.’ I told him, ‘I’m sorry.’ It is what it is and we’ve still got to find a way.’’

Rivers said he is fine with Shaquille O’Neal playing aggressive and he’s going to trust O’Neal to use his discretion regarding tight officiating.

“I want Shaq to play like Shaq,’’ Rivers said. “It would have been nice for him to be on the floor. With Shaq, you don’t know what is a foul and what isn’t a foul. But yeah, it would help.’’

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