Game 1 return goal for Shaq
WASHINGTON — Shaquille O’Neal is expected to return to the Celtics lineup for Game 1 of the playoffs, team president Danny Ainge told the Globe yesterday.
Ainge does not anticipate O’Neal playing in tomorrow night’s regular-season finale against the Knicks as the center continues to recover from a strained right calf. However, Ainge expects O’Neal to practice Thursday in hopes he will be ready for Game 1 of the playoffs — probably Sunday — against the Knicks.
“We’re planning as of right now on him practicing Thursday or Friday and being ready for Game 1 of the playoffs,’’ Ainge said. “I have every confidence that he will be ready to play in the playoffs.’’
When asked if O’Neal would play against the Knicks tomorrow, Ainge said, “Probably not.’’
The Celtics have been waiting patiently for the 39-year-old to get healthy. He missed 27 games with Achilles’ tendon and foot injuries before he strained his calf 5 minutes 36 seconds into his first game back, April 3 against the Pistons. Since then O’Neal has missed four games, and if he doesn’t play tomorrow will have missed the final six games of the regular season.
O’Neal has played in 37 games this season and has averaged 9.2 points, 4.8 rebounds, in 20.3 minutes. After the Heat dominated the Celtics on the boards, 42-26, in Sunday’s 100-77 loss, any inside help would be a boost.
West injured Celtics trainers will be keeping an eye on guard Delonte West, who appeared to sprain his right ankle in the third quarter of last night’s 95-94 overtime loss to the Wizards. Coach Doc Rivers didn’t have an update on West’s injury.
West collided with Wizards center JaVale McGee while trying to interrupt a fast break with 11:03 to go in the quarter. West was slow to get up and had to be helped off the court. He eventually limped to the locker room and did not return.
It’s the same ankle that West injured earlier this season.
“I was worried,’’ Rivers said. “But [trainer Ed Lacerte] said it was the same ankle and for me that was a relief because I thought it was worse the way the guy came down on him.’’
O’Neal punches clock Jermaine O’Neal played a season-high 36 minutes 54 seconds and said the extra work will help him as the Celtics head into the postseason.
O’Neal had 15 points, 5 blocks, and 13 rebounds a day after a poor performance against the Heat in which he had no rebounds and no baskets. He missed 36 games this season because of a knee injury that required arthroscopic surgery in February.
As the Celtics ease O’Neal back into the rotation, each opportunity is important for the 15-year veteran.
“He defended the basket as well as you can defend it,’’ Rivers said.
And on the offensive end, O’Neal said he tried to take advantage of the extra chances with the starters taking the night off. He was 6 of 15 from the field and 3 of 7 from the line.
“It felt good,’’ O’Neal said. “I’ve been talking to some of the coaches about getting a little bit more touches on the offensive end. I think I can still help this team especially when the starting five is on the bench resting, but it’s not about that. It’s about just playing good basketball.’’
But the next time for O’Neal to help the Celtics will be in the playoffs. Rivers said O’Neal will likely sit out tomorrow’s game against the Knicks.
Experience counts When West went down, Carlos Arroyo took over at point guard and found himself in critical situations. He had a steal late in regulation that set up Von Wafer’s layup with 1:02 to play that gave the Celtics an 83-77 lead. Arroyo was called for a foul with the Celtics protecting a 4-point lead, giving John Wall three free throws that cut the Celtics lead to 83-82 with 21.2 to go. Arroyo played 29:32 and had three assists and 7 points. As Rivers makes his final decisions for playing time in the playoffs, Arroyo said each opportunity is a chance to prove himself. “You try to do what you can but it’s hard because I didn’t have a real good rhythm, and you just try to feel comfortable and do what you can,’’ Arroyo said. Rivers said crucial moments in these last games has built experience for the backups. “It can’t hurt them,’’ Rivers said. “Let’s be honest, let’s hope Paul [Pierce], Ray [Allen], and Kevin [Garnett] are in, in those situations, but one of those guys may be in and you don’t know which one of those guys will be in so you never know.’’ . . . The technical issued against Pierce in last Thursday’s game against the Chicago Bulls was rescinded. He’ll enter the playoffs with nine technicals.
Julian Benbow of the Globe Staff contributed to this report.