O’Neal’s return makes big difference
Shaquille O’Neal was active for a Celtics game for just the second time since Feb. 1, giving Boston a huge post presence and perhaps altering this Eastern Conference semifinal series. He scored 2 points in 8 minutes 29 seconds in the Celtics’ 97-81 victory over the Heat in Game 3 last night at TD Garden.
“I thought Shaq had a big impact in the second half, just his presence,’’ coach Doc Rivers said. “He came out of the game healthy.’’
O’Neal had practiced the past two days and participated in the team’s shootaround yesterday morning in Waltham. He came off the bench last night.
O’Neal was still walking with a limp because of his sore right Achilles’ tendon and foot. After workouts, Rivers said the veteran center made great progress over the past few weeks.
O’Neal was expected to return during the first-round series with the Knicks, but his recovery has been slow.
“With him, it will just be the eye test and whatever you think he can handle,’’ Rivers said before Game 3. “He looked good this morning and [Friday] he had a good practice.
“Obviously Shaq can’t do things that he could do 15 years ago. But when he comes in and fills a role for this team, he’s been terrific for us.’’
O’Neal gave the Celtics a much-needed post presence, a much-needed rebounder, and another inside scorer. When he has been healthy with the Celtics, he has been stellar. But he had made one game appearance in more than three months, and that was a five-minute stint during which he injured his right calf.
“It’s more just the power and the force that he can bring that will help us,’’ Rivers said. “He can do that in some ways offensively. And defensively, it’s no fun to drive against Shaq. Our guys learned that in practice.’’
Jermaine O’Neal remained the starting center while Shaquille O’Neal replaced Nenad Krstic as the first center off the bench.
Winning attitude The Heat have not won at TD Garden since April 6, 2007, when Shaquille O’Neal (22 points, 13 rebounds) led a Dwyane Wade-less club to an 88-85 win. Ryan Gomes led the Paul Pierce-less Celtics with 24 points. Who knew a few months later, the course of the Celtics’ franchise would change, and the current Big Three would run off 10 straight home wins over Miami (including postseason)?
Wade, who wasn’t part of that last Miami victory because of a dislocated left shoulder, said he realized how difficult a venue the Garden has been for the past four years.
“We’ve lost a lot of close games in this building,’’ Wade said after his team’s shootaround. “We’ve got to get over the hump. It’s playoff basketball. Obviously we’re a different team. We’ve got to come out on the court and we have to do it. We have to take all the punches they throw at us for 48 minutes and still be there standing at the end.’’
Nothing’s free The Heat have a 87-57 edge in attempts from the free throw line in the series. The Celtics acknowledged that getting to the line has been the main issue in the series, especially when Wade scored 7 points in that pivotal fourth quarter of Game 2, all from the free throw line. Chris Bosh attempted 11 free throws in Game 2, 11 more than Kevin Garnett.
“Our game is, we’re attackers,’’ Wade said. “Myself and LeBron are two of the most attack players in the league when it comes to getting points in the paint, putting pressure on the defense. We’re not necessarily going in there and looking for fouls. We’ve been able to go in hard and get put on the line. Whatever the game calls for, we have the team to be able to do it.’’
The Celtics were fully aware that Miami scored 26 percent of its points in the first two games from the line and of Wade’s 66 points in the series, 19 are from the line.
“It better be [a way to keep them off the line],’’ Rivers said. “If you split [James and Wade’s] shots in half so far, it’s 60 shots — 30 of their makes have been from their greatness, the other 30 have been from our ability not to follow our game plan. We have to limit those 30.’’
Hot Hill Celtics assistant Armond Hill makes sure to keep a low profile, but he showed another side when he learned that a reporter Tweeted a Celtics strategy he wrote on the grease board before the game.
Hill was informed of the Tweet and quieted the locker room with his voice, warning reporters not to Tweet or write down any of the Celtics’ plans during their interview sessions in the locker room. As the media surrounded Ray Allen for a pregame interview, a still-angry Hill stood in front of the grease board, and later continued writing the game plan.
Not yet Although he was draining jumper after jumper during shootaround, Udonis Haslem is not quite ready to return from a right foot injury that has cost him five months. Haslem, who tore a ligament in the foot in November, is close to returning, according to Heat coach Erik Spoelstra, but the team is being cautious . . . To make room for O’Neal on the active roster, the Celtics put Carlos Arroyo on the inactive list. He has yet to make an appearance in the postseason. The other inactives were Avery Bradley and Sasha Pavlovic.
Gary Washburn can be reached at email@example.com.