Posted on: April 24, 2011 2:22 pm
Posted by Matt Moore
From Ken Berger of CBSSports.com before today's Game 4 between the Knicks and Celtics, an elimination game for New York:
If the Knicks are going to have any shot at making this a series, they need a great Amar'e. Stoudemire will give it a go. Without Billlups, Toney Douglas will go again. We'll see if it's as amusing as it was last time.
For more on today's Knicks-Celtics Game 4, follow Ken Berger on Twitter.
Posted on: April 24, 2011 2:52 am
Edited on: April 24, 2011 3:47 am
Can the Knicks get one for their pride? Or will the Celtics make another statement in the Garden? Either way, this series is over.
Posted by Matt Moore
The Narrative: Were the Knicks exposed in Game 3? Even without Billups, it certainly felt like it. The Celtics hit the gear we've been waiting for them to hit for months. They looked every bit the team that most thought would contend for the title in June, with or without Perkins. The Knicks? Well, they looked like a team that traded half their roster for a high-usage scorer with questionable defensive ability and never addressed their gaping, vaccumous hole at center. The Celtics are unlikely to play that well again. But the Knicks had two winnable games in Boston, and blew both of them. The Celtics woke up, and look like they're ready to end things quickly, quietly, and mercifully for the Knicks. This game feels more like a chance for the Celtics to make another statement than the Knicks' last stand.
The Hook: Amar'e Stoudemire is "iffy" for Game 4. Which means the Knicks have to run more, which they've completely forgotten how to do. A Mike D'Antoni team that doesn't know how to run the break? So it's basically a bad defensive team that doesn't do anything well offensively. Yeah, this should end well. Stoudemire wasn't very effective in Game 3; you could tell the back spasms were really hurting him. Without him, it means the Knicks' forwards have to step up. If you can name them, enjoy your tickets to the game. Shawne Williams, Bill Walker, Ronny Turiaf, Jared Jeffries? Yeah, this just isn't working out too well. Maybe Melo will score 100, though. That would be pretty cool. The Knicks might still lose, but hey, it would make for good headlines.
The Adjustment: Toney Douglas has to be more aggressive. In Game 3, Douglas pulled up on transition opportunities while his coach begged him to push. Against a better defensive team, you cannot operate in the half-court set and hope to win. Douglas has to be hyper-aggressive in every opportunity they're blessed with, and push the ball. If Douglas can't get it done, give Anthony Carter a try. Trying and failing is better than not trying at this point. The Knicks' half-court offense is entirely ISO sets at this point. The Knicks have to try and open that up by pushing the ball and getting some of their scorers some confidence, and firing up the crowd. The half-court set just means more plays Rondo can make and more Allen 3-pointers. The Knicks have to play to the team D'Antoni assembled ... or what is left of that team after James Dolan gutted it to get a scoring forward.
The X-Factor: Jermaine O'Neal. O'Neal has been huge in this series, which tells you a lot about where the Knicks' center rotation is at. O'Neal has had the mid-range going, has worked the glass, has defended at the rim, and has given the requisite hard fouls. If O'Neal keeps up this play, and stays healthy, this could be a huge factor in the playoffs going forward. And as long as he plays decently in Game 4, the Knicks will have lost the positional matchup at center. Again.
The Sticking Point: The Celtics are awake, now. And the gap between the two franchises, the two rosters, the two teams was evident in Game 3. How do the Knicks respond to that kind of face-kicking? The problem is that it doesn't matter, nor does the great atmosphere of the Garden. The Knicks could win Game 4 in a special combination of elements, but barring an outright miracle, this series isn't going further than five games. The Celtics struggled in the first two and the Knicks still couldn't get a win. Now, the Celtics are motivated and ready to contend for a title. And, after a frustrating couple months, the Knicks are the first team they're taking their frustrations out on. Even if the Knicks win, they don't win. The future's exceptionally bright for New York, and that's why the trade was made. But, right now, in this moment, they simply can't measure up.
Posted on: April 22, 2011 10:54 pm
Edited on: April 22, 2011 11:27 pm
The Knicks were routed out of the Garden by Four Horsemen that doomed them to an 0-3 deficit.
Posted by Matt Moore
You had to expect this. A raucous home crowd thinking the first two games were close enough to support a win for the hometown boys in their own house. Over-performance from a super-thin Knicks roster in Games 1 and 2, with some top-heavy help from the stars who the Celtics would work to figure out. Sloppy play from the Celtics to wake themselves up, even after a win. And then, you know, this reality.
The Boston Celtics are much better than the New York Knicks.
In the Celtics' outright dismantling of the Knicks, the Celtics rode in like it was Revelations and they were brining the end of the world to Knicks fans. There were four factors that really led to this beatdown. Here then are the four horsemen of the Knickocalypse.
2. Famine: James Dolan should buy himself a beer tonight. It was his bungling of the Melo trade that left the Knicks with such a wretched supporting cast and their bench starving for talent. Jared Jeffries played exceptionally well in Game 2, and still managed to lose the game on consecutive possessions. In Game 3, there was no such upside. Jeffries blew easy passes underneath. He was slow to rotate, got lost repeatedly, and failed to execute with any clear purpose. And he had a much better game than Ronny Turiaf. Not only didn't Turiaf do all of those things, but he got completely manhandled down low. The Celtics' reserves were just as bad, and as D'Antoni kept trying to send different lineups, trying to find a spark, the gap in talent was pretty obvious.
Then there was Toney Douglas. This should have been his opportunity to shine. With Billups out another game, building off of Game 2, with a home crowd, the situation was ripe for him to make an impact. His line's not bad. 15-3-3. But Douglas also failed to recognize Amar'e Stoudemire, the giant power forward with insane leaping ability who's the star of his team, slashing towards the basket on multiple fast breaks. He repeatedly froze fast breaks instead of pushing. Which is really what you want to do when you're running a D'Antoni offense. Slow it down. The Celtics actually dislike fast break teams quite a bit. That being the case, they loved Douglas tonight, because let them keep everything in front of them, nice and settled.
3. War: The Celtics' defense wasn't everywhere it should have been in Games 1 and 2. It was omnipresent in Game 3. Particularly at the rim. The same principles which have led the Celtics to two finals appearances in three years were in play. Carmelo Anthony was challenged on the perimeter tight by Paul Pierce and others, electing to force him into the drive. When he drove, he was met outside of the paint with multiple defenders creating a wall. Melo's runners bounced off backboard, and contrary the games in Boston, the Celtics came to hit the glass. Boston allowed only a 29 percent offensive rebound rate to the Knicks after allowing over 40 percent to be snagged by New York in both games in Beantown. The formula's simple. Pressure, attack, communicate, help, choke off the offense and get the rebound. The Celtics are defined by those principles, and they were in full effect Friday night.
On offense, the Celtics came in and raided the Garden, especially from the perimeter. Ray Allen had a bombardment of 3-pointers, in classic form. The Knicks' defense was abysmal, don't get me wrong. But those offensive rebounds came into play. Boston had a 38 percent offensive rebounding rate on their own. That lead to second chance opportunities, which created a scrambling Knicks defense out of position, at which point Allen calmly slipped to a corner and nailed three after three. Most of it was a lack of communication and poor defensive principles by the Knicks, but Boston also calmly executed over and over again. Paul Pierce, who came in 1-10 in ISO situations in this series, was dominant. He and Allen combined for 70 points between the two of them. Pierce had everything going -- the jumper was crazy wet. Check out their shot charts from GameTracker.
23-34 on jumpers. That's pretty much insane. It was a prolific performance from two Hall of Famers. The embers from the Nets at the Garden are still burning.
4. Death, thy name is Rajon Rondo. 15 points, 11 rebounds, 20 assists. The first 20-assist triple-double since Magic Johnson in 1991. Those offensive rebounds that lead to those threes? Six of them for Rondo. The floater, the mid-range, and dish, after dish, after dish. The Celtics were on a whole different level than the Knicks tonight. Rondo was on a level beyond that. He was so good his teammates couldn't keep up at points. Rondo was dribbling between his legs and behind his back on the baseline after offensive rebounds. It was as brilliant of a pure-point performance as you'll see in the league. The Rajon Rondo from the beginning of the season is most definitely back.
The Knicks could have defended better. They could have rebounded better. They could have passed, shot, played better. But with Rajon Rondo owning the game in the way he did, it's hard to see that there was much this Knicks roster could do. The one from earlier in the season, with more depth, more versatility, and more chemistry? Maybe. But this one was simply overwhelmed by the horsemen.
The end may come on Sunday.
Posted on: April 22, 2011 3:10 pm
Edited on: April 22, 2011 7:00 pm
Madison Square Garden hosts its first playoff game in over five years. Will the Big Apple boys be able to kick the demons the Celtics have sicked on them in the final minutes of Game 1 and 2?
Posted by Matt Moore
The Narrative: Close only counts in horseshoes and hand grenades. That's the reality of where the Knicks are at. A stellar performance by Stoudemire in Game 1 crushed by a terrible performance from Melo and a vintage Ray Allen three. A superhuman response from Melo in Game 2 without Billups or Stoudemire, vanquished by Jared Jeffries bowled over on one end, intercepted on the other. The Knicks fought so well in the first two games. And they have nothing to show for it.
The crowd at MSG will be there. But you have to wonder about the emotional response of the Knicks. Those were two tough, tough losses to take. And versus a usual six seed who would just be happy to have shown some life and been in the conversation, New York's on a different level. The market, the city, the superstars, the expectations all mean that they're supposed to finish those games when they have the chance, even with the vagabonds they currently have in key rotation positions. Trying to get a lock on how the Knicks will come out is pretty difficult. You have to believe Stoudemire will be ready, having been in so many playoff games. Melo might be in the same boat, but he might also be checked out after doing what he did in Game 2 and having the game blown up by Jeffries electing to pass.
The Knicks' best effort will come from riding that surge of emotion. They can't out-execute the Celtics, but if Stoudemire's back, Boston also won't be able to throw nine-hundred defenders at Melo at once. The Knicks need to get out in transition, create steals, scrap like they did in the first two games and hang on. Surrendering late leads isn't just a way to lose a game. It's a way to lose a series. Just ask Indiana.
The Hook: You know who's been terrible? Landry Fields. Which isn't really fair to say since he's a rookie and all, and he hit the rookie wall about two months ago. Essentially, since the Melo trade, he's fallen off the map. Whether it's chemistry or lineups or balance, Fields hasn't been able to make the same kind of impact he did early in the season. Which would be something we'd excuse and move over, but as thin as the Knicks are, they need every player who could be considered "good" to contribut. Fields is 2-7 in this series with a rebound, a turnover, and a block in 35 combined minutes. He was even 0-2 at the free throw line. Fields doesn't have a great offensive repertoire and isn't any sort of speed demon. But he's got to make his presence felt somewhere. Hustle plays, easy layups, steals, blocks, somewhere. He's got to put in some sort of impact. The Knicks don't have enough players for Fields to no-show. That's just the reality of where he's at.
The Adjustment: Stoudemire might be back, and he killed the Celtics in Game 1. The Celtics aren't known to just accept certain guys doing damage. So they'll likely be more aggressive with STAT at the elbow and low. The elbow is Stoudemire's ISO starting position. Since the Knicks are likely without Chauncey Billups again, there isn't a ball-handler to really attack with Stoudemire in the pick and roll (and isn't that a shame). So those elbow possessions will be up should Stoudemire give it a go. Expect the Celtics to possibly back off the elbow jumper to keep Stoudemire from driving, hoping those back spasms will tighten up his release to distract him. When he does drive, expect more low help, as neither Turiaf nor Jeffries have proven they can handle, collect, or produce off the dump-off pass.
Also expect a really healthy dose of elbows to the back of Stoudemire. If he plays, he's going to physically wish he hadn't. This is what the Celtics do.
If the Knicks are smart, they'll force the issue with the pick and roll. Yes, the Celtics are one of the best pick and roll defensive teams in the league, and yes, the Knicks are without a capable guard to run said system. But even getting Melo as ball-handler or working with veteran guard Anthony Carter could help. Stoudemire is so good in that set, to not use him is almost criminal.
The X-Factor: Injury, obviously. Shaq's almost definitely out. Amar'e is a gametime decision. Billups is likely out. The Celtics have a handful of scrapes and bruises, including Jermaine O'Neal's wrist, which turned him from a major influencer in Game 1 to a near-liability in Game 2. Despite this being a Mike D'Antoni team, this has been a rough and tumble series, with some good defense played on both sides. There's going to be more hammering, more contact, more bad blood. The Celtics know that Game 3 and 4 are chances for the knockout punch. They also know that losing both means less rest before facing the Heat in the semis. The Knicks know the Garden is their last stand and another suckerpunch loss will pretty much doom them and the players will start to check out mentally. With the injuries in play, this is going to come down to a battle of wills.
And in that situation, you never, ever want to bet against the Celtics.
The Sticking Point: The Knicks got a superb performance from Stoudemire in Game 1. They got an other-worldly response from Melo, short-handed, in Game 2. Their best hope in this series was for their star players to step up and take over the game. That happend. They still lost. The Celtics haven't shut down the Knicks' best players, but they've done enough, particularly in the last five minutes. Swagger's a cliche, but it's also got some truth to it. The Celtics know they can win, no matter what the Knicks do.
Can the Knicks find a different way to win, or are they just pretty much who they are? The Garden's waiting to find out.
Posted on: April 20, 2011 1:11 pm
Edited on: April 21, 2011 11:10 am
Posted by Matt Moore
UPDATE: "I know that's not true," Doc Rivers told CSNNE.com . "He's going to play. I just don't know when."
You wouldn't think a 38-year-old center who has played 89 games over the past two seasons would cause all this hub-ub. But then, most 38-year-old centers aren't the living legend Shaquille O'Neal. A report has surfaced in the Eagle Tribune that suggests that we may not be seeing the Diesel again... ever.
Shaquille ONeal may have worn a Boston Celtics uniform for the last time.via Source: Cs not expecting Shaq in playoffs » Sports » EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA .
So that sounds pretty bad. Not having O'Neal, after trading Kendrick Perkins (yes, that old chestnut again, sorry Celtics fans, it's going to keep being brought up), and only having Jermaine O'Neal who has injury issues himself does not set them up well going forward. There is only one dominant center left in the playoffs, but it's more a matter of not having that advantage, rather than another team having a strong one.
Of course, when you really look at the report, there are some questions. From WEEI in Boston:
Sounds like a lot of speculation to me. He “may have worn” Green for the final time? That could’ve been written yesterday, the day before that or a month before that. Of course the Celtics are moving forward as if Shaq’s not returning. What else are they going to do? Stop practicing until the Big Fella suits up? Obviously, they’ll move forward with Jermaine O’Neal as the starting center and Davis as the No. 2, and they’ll adjust if Shaq returns.via Green Street » Irish Coffee: Is Shaq coming back, or isn’t he? .
So that's a nice dose of reality. I think it's unlikely we'll find out if O'Neal is done for the playoffs. He will continue to be a "maybe" for every game. Remember how the Celtics treated the Kevin Garnett injury in 2008, cloaked in mystery wrapped in a puzzle. O'Neal is going to be a gametime decision every night, even if the coaching staff is planning for him not to be available.
But this still avoids the problem. Which is if you can't count on Shaq, the Celtics are still trying to determine a gameplan built around Jermaine O'Neal as the only available center. There's the question of injury, there's the question of endurance, there's the question of matchups. The Shaq question keeps getting louder in Boston. In the short term, though, the numbers show that J.O. can make a big impact on the Knicks... when he's feeling well enough to play.
Posted on: April 19, 2011 1:20 pm
Edited on: April 19, 2011 2:22 pm
We reset the Knicks-Celtics series with Game 2 on tap for Tuesday night. Is New York in trouble without Chauncey Billups? Posted by Ben Golliver.
A breathtaking Game 1 came down to a pair of potential game-winning threes : Celtics guard Ray Allen made his, Knicks forward Carmelo Anthony didn't. The result was disappointing for Knicks fans, but the level of effort wasn't. Amar'e Stoudemire got his numbers, the bench showed up and a more efficient night from Anthony would have meant a Game 1 win. For Boston, point guard Rajon Rondo didn't shoot particularly well but he did put together a near triple-double, which is a good sign for the Celtics, as they are only going as far as Rondo pilots them.
One huge Game 1 sticking point that shakes things up for Game 2: the availability of Knicks point guard Chauncey Billups, who went down with a knee injury late and isn't expected to play on Tuesday. Knicks guard Toney Douglas, a second-year player out of Florida State, is expected to start in Billups' place, and will have his hands full checking Rondo. The numbers on Douglas do offer some hope. The Knicks play better when he's on the court than when he's off, although that's generally come against second-unit players. He's also upped his production during the nine games he started this season (he averaged 13.9 points and 5.7 assists as a starter, compared to 10.6 points and 3.0 assists overall). The issue, as Knicks coach Mike D'Antoni pointed out to SI.com , is how many minutes Douglas will be required to play. It could be a lot. The next guy on the depth chart is aging vet Anthony Carter, who shot 1-4 in 14 minutes during Game 1. In case you were wondering, Douglas averaged 7.5 points and 3.3 assists against the Celtics during the regular season.
One look at Carmelo Anthony's shot chart to the right tells you everything you need to know about what New York hopes to do differently on Tuesday. The breakdown: 5-18 from the field, 2-8 on three-pointers, 4-15 overall on jumpers, just three shots in the paint and a paltry four free throw attempts.
Anthony, one of the league's premier all-around scorers, simply must do better. Attacking Boston's solid interior defense isn't an easy proposition but there really is no alternative. Unless Anthony is able to get to the free throw line, New York will be hoping and praying that its bench shows up big for the second night in a row, a possibility made more difficult by Douglas's move to the starting lineup.
Brilliantly laid out in video form at Posting and Toasting, Celtics center Jermaine O'Neal had a monster Game 1 defensively, blocking four shots and contesting countless others, while looking very agile in Boston's halfcourt defense. On top of all that, he made all six of his shot attempts in 23 minutes. That's the definition of quality minutes from the man tabbed to pick up the slack in Shaquille O'Neal's absence. Can he repeat, or at least approximate, that performance in Game 2?
The Sticking Point:
While all five Boston starters scored in double figures during Game 1, the bench was pretty bad. Delonte West, Nenad Krstic, Jeff Green and Glen Davis combined to shoot 4-15, scoring just eight points and grabbing eight rebounds in a combined 59 minutes. Boston doesn't need all of those guys to step up; really, they'd probably settle for just one. Asking Jeff Green to be that guy feels like a stretch these days, so let's tab Glen "Big Baby" Davis, who started some trash talking prior to Game 1. Davis has to do a better job than his 1-8 night, since he's being asked to give big minutes behind O'Neal. He's too talented to lay an egg like that twice in a row.
Posted on: April 18, 2011 12:00 pm
Reactions from around the web to the Celtics' Game 1 win over the Knicks...
Posted by Matt Moore
Last night started off like the regular season ended but ended like it started. It is almost as if the bad habits developed over the last several weeks carried over. But sure enough, when they needed it most, the switch came on and the team rallied and won.via The Switch Flickered - CelticsBlog.
If this were a 4-5 matchup, it would be one thing. Or a second-round matchup. But I'm a little surprised that so many Celtics fans are so "well, there they go again, flipping the switch" in this one. I loathe the "one team lost it more than the other team won it" angle in most circumstances. Spurs fans are saying a lot of that Monday morning without taking notice of the fact that Marc Gasol did earn all 24 of his points. But here? The Knicks didn't have a shot to win this thing. They had about nineteen. Their failure to execute wasn't based off of personnel, it was based off of decision making and shooting. Which, yes, you can credit the Celtics' defense for, as always. It just seems like in a series where the Celtics should overwhelm their opponent to such a considerable degree, there would be more uneasiness regarding "the switch." But then again, it was Game 1. The Celtics were in a tight series with Miami in the beginning and then a series of dramatic events last year lit a fire under them. Perhaps the same thing is happening here.
It has to make you wonder why they can't figure out a way to get him the ball more. He's only shooting career highs in field goal percentage and three-point field goal percentage this season. Ho-hum.via Ray Comes Through Just in the Knick of Time - CelticsBlog.
Having someone like Allen to rely on is such a huge advantage. He's that player where, when he shot the game winner against the Knicks, every Knicks fans is screaming "how can you let him get open?" But in reality, it's his abily to get open, and to knock down those shots when he should be triple-covered that makes him so good. Well, that and a good Kevin Garnett illegal screen/trip. The Knicks answered with their player who has that ability to kill you with last second shots, he just didn't work to create a good opportunity for himself.
And then there's Melo. When he received the ball with a few seconds left and a chance to tie or win, I was all like "wow, it would be VERY Melo to sink the big shot after sucking the whole second half", but he didn't. It ended up being a pair of quarters in which Anthony hit just one field goal (a put-back) and scored just three points. He was cookin' soup from outside in the first half, but it didn't feel sustainable and wasn't. Anthony attacked the basket only in spurts, and seemed hesitant to do so as the game progressed, perhaps because of several plays in which he was stripped and didn't get the calls he felt he deserved. 5-18 on the night, 2-8 from downtown, and just 15 points. He defended Paul Pierce decently, but got a bit lost when screens and switching took place. Nothing unusual there. I'm verrrrrry intrigued to see how he responds to this in game two.via Game One: Celtics 87, Knicks 85: "Everything hurts." - Posting and Toasting.
Knicks fans can't be frustrated with Melo, this is who he is. Well, kind of. He's usually a very good clutch shooter, he was just off that game down the stretch. But they shouldn't be (and Posting and Toasting wasn't) surprised with him taking jumpers and not going to the rim. That's his game. Even jump shots are okay if you're working to get open shots. Use a pick. Work off-ball. Create some space. But no, instead, Melo literally worked to create the most difficult shot he could, and then was disappointed when it didn't work. Amar'e Stoudemire opted for some tough shots down the stretch, but they were tough because of the probability he was going to get fouled. And instead, he didn't get a chance to save the team he was the first to join last summer. That's a huge tactical mistake on the part of the Knicks, Mike D'Antoni, and Melo.
"I think we were doing everything in our power to get Amar'e the ball," Anthony said. "He had it going. He was the horse we were riding tonight. Tonight was his night. We tried to go to him, we were going to him, and he was producing. Toward the end, I think the Celtics made some adjustments."via Melo, Knicks miss opportunity in tough loss to Celtics - NBA - CBSSports.com Basketball.
Yes, Melo. The Celtics made some adjustments. By willing you into going hero mode.
Hot-hand, no hot-hand, you should go with the guy who "has it" that night versus the guy who has been a popsicle for two quarters. Amar'e was decisive, strong, composed and downright physically terrifying. And instead the Knicks wound up with a jumper. Yeesh.
This New York team may not have Boston’s playoff experience or consistent defensive intensity but they made great improvements over their regular season selves last night. They defended with gusto, particularly on the interior where they turned away multiple Boston layups (the Celtics, like the Knicks, shot only 50% at the rim, pedestrian figures compared to the regular season league average of 64.1%). As well, the Knicks proved they could hang with Boston during a slow paced game. And they have at least one player the Celtics had no answer for. So, we’ve got a series here.via Boston Celtics blog — Celtics news, analysis, commentary from CelticsHub.com.
The pace thing is certainly interesting. This team is so poorly fit for D'Antoni's style after the trade. Slow, shooter point guard, gunning ISO wing, no real versatility at postion, and no real element of speed. Does that help in the playoffs? It did for most of the game. The ground out a game against the Celtics. They weren't going to be able to do that against the Celtics before the trade. Didn't have the personnel. Which is doubly weird considering Carmelo Anthony's been on high-pace teams for much of his career.
The Celtics actually had more success when they got out in transition. This was a weird game.
O’Neal did his best work during the Celtics’ third-quarter surge, as they worked their way back from a 12-point deficit. He scored 6 points, blocked Anthony twice and kept alive numerous possessions.via Knicks Leave Opening, and Celtics Slip Past - NYTimes.com.
Everyone assumed the Celtics would be sunk without Shaquille O'Neal. J.O. gave the kind of performance you have to have from role players in the playoffs. If the Knicks' lack of talent at center gives J.O. life, the rest of the East will have a bone to pick after a mediocre regular season from him.
Posted on: April 12, 2011 8:57 am
Edited on: April 12, 2011 9:00 am
The Boston Celtics expect center Shaquille O'Neal to be ready to play once the playoffs start. Posted by Ben Golliver.
Boston Celtics president Danny Ainge is drowning in an ocean of despair these days, as the complaining about his trade of center Kendrick Perkins at the deadline has reached record levels. One man can throw Ainge a life preserver: Shaquille O'Neal.
Boston's aging center has played in just 37 games so far this season, averaging 9.2 points and 4.8 rebounds, easily career-lows in both categories. But O'Neal is the best hope the Celtics have for injecting some toughness and a paint presence in Perkins' absence.
The good news for Celtics fans, the Boston Globe reports, is that Ainge expects O'Neal to be ready to go once the playoffs start later this week.
Celtics president Danny Ainge told the Globe this afternoon that Shaquille O'Neal is unlikely to play in Wednesday's season finale against the New York Knicks but is expected to practice Thursday and be ready for Game 1 of the Celtics' first-round series Saturday or Sunday.
O'Neal, who missed 27 games with an Achilles tendon and foot injuries and then played 5 minutes, 36 seconds in his return before straining a right calf muscle, has missed the past games, including Monday's road finale against the Washington Wizards.
"We're planning as of right now of him practicing Thursday or Friday and being ready to play for Game 1 of the playoffs," Ainge said. "I have every confidence that he will be ready and play in the playoffs."It's all settled: The No. 3 seed Celtics will face the No. 6 seed New York Knicks in the first round. The good news for Boston is that New York doesn't have a capable center either, so even if O'Neal is limited upon his return it shouldn't necessarily be a difference-maker.
Looking down the road at Boston's potential second round opponent, the Miami Heat, their potential Eastern Conference Finals opponent, the Chicago Bulls, or their potential NBA Finals opponent, the Los Angeles Lakers, a player with Shaq's size and presence has significant value, as Boston's other interior options include Nenad Krstic and Jermaine O'Neal. One bright spot: unless the Orlando Magic pull an upset over the Bulls, the Celtics should avoid Dwight Howard.