We are happy to welcome Dave Sheridan to the Chasing 23 team. A former Nets fan (he’s paid his dues), Dave spends most of his time being the most unpopular fan just outside of Boston, rooting for the post-Isiah New York Knicks. You can also follow Dave on Twitter at @ToughDSheridan
The fragile state of Shaquille O’Neal’s aging body is all that stands between the Boston Celtics and banner # 18, or that is what diehard fans of The Green are choosing to believe, even though Dennis Lehane’s fictional Boston private detective, Patrick Kenzie, could unearth salient clues from the Boston Herald’s sports page to undermine that parochial belief.
The thirty-nine-year-old O’Neal is facing the diminishing returns of a body that is beset by the cruel realities of aging. Shaq, who has never been billed as a paragon of physical fitness, is seeing his body abandon him, in much the same way the effects of age have betrayed previous NBA big men such as Patrick Ewing, Hakeem Olajuwon and Artis “Rigor Mortis” Gilmore. Combine that with a career filled with Hack-a-Shaq abuse – and the unending pounding of NBA post play – we are witnessing this once in a lifetime athlete’s body surrender to years of wear-and-tear.
Boston Celtics fans are holding on to a fragile hope, which defies all rational logic but could be aided with a few well-placed messages sent to a higher power, that Shaq’s crumbling Man of Steel structure will be able to withstand the rigors of what could possibly be over twenty-five postseason games. This belief stands in stark contrast to the Shaquille O’Neal, who sustained a right calf strain, in Sunday night’s 101-90 win over a somnambulant Detroit Pistons squad.
Watching head coach Doc Rivers dejected and stunned face, as he saw O’Neal hobble into the arms of the team’s medical staff after seeing five minutes and 29 seconds of action, it was clear what was on Doc’s mind and racing through the thoughts of knowledgeable Celtics fans – Shaq has blown his Achilles tendon.
A fatal blow to the Celtics championship dreams was averted, but Shaquille O’Neal’s body is about as reliable as Allen Iverson showing up on time for practice in Turkey. Don’t wager much dough, or Turkish lira, on the health of Shaq’s body or Iverson’s devotion to Anatolian customs, but a gut feeling suggests that AI could be persuaded to be punctual with the lure of some sweet Red Afghani. Red Afghani wouldn’t necessarily work for Shaq’s physical state, but an appointment with Victor Conte might work wonders.
Hope prevails in Boston. And Shaq is the embodiment of that hope, but is Shaq truly the answer to Boston’s recent struggles?
Celtics President Danny Ainge’s trade deadline deal, which sent center and fan favorite Kendrick Perkins and guard Nate Robinson to the Oklahoma City Thunder for forward Jeff Green and center Nenad Krstic, was based on the belief that Shaq would be healthy for the postseason. Shaq was naturally viewed as the suitable replacement for Perk in The Green’s starting five, but unlike Perk, a healthy Shaq isn’t an option for late game situations because of his poor free throw shooting. (Perkins is no Calvin Murphy at the line, either.)
What this means is that Doc Rivers will most likely finish playoff games with this lineup:
PG Rajon Rondo
SG Ray Allen
SF Paul Pierce
C Glen “Big Baby” Davis
So, the return of a healthy Shaq, which is deemed paramount to the Celtics raising banner #18 to the rafters, probably will not affect Boston in crunch time. It’s also clear that Doc Rivers would prefer not to employ Nenad Krstic or Jermaine O’Neal as starters, but at the moment, those are his available options. Presently, Jermaine O’Neal has a game that resembles former NBA great Primoz Brezec, and Krstic is viewed as someone who can help anchor Boston’s second unit.
And that’s why Danny Ainge insists he made the trade with Oklahoma City – to improve Boston’s second unit with the additions of Green and Krstic – but sometimes reality sticks its ugly head into the best laid plans.
Jeff Green is becoming a defensive liability for the Celtics. Most noticeably, this occurs when Doc Rivers inserts Green into the game at power forward. Green is ritually used and abused by opposing power forwards, he has struggled to pick up the Celtics defensive concepts and has proven to be a rebounding liability. To manage this situation, Doc Rivers has been employing a second unit front line that has Krstic at center, Big Baby at power forward and Green at small forward.
Ainge’s gamble, in dealing ostensibly Perkins for Green, was to land an offensive force that could reduce the minutes of Ray Allen and Paul Pierce. Bear in mind that Ainge’s gambit was also based on the precarious condition of Shaquille O’Neal’s health, and the belief that Shaq would be a healthy and suitable replacement for Perk’s physical presence in the paint. With the departure of Perkins and the absence of Shaq, the Celtics are struggling to regain a suffocating defensive presence that possessed the ability to asphyxiate opposing team’s offenses.
The concept of team chemistry has been challenged by Ainge, and the onus of cobbling together a championship team has fallen to Doc Rivers, who may have seen his NBA title dreams depart with Kendrick Perkins. Not only must Doc decipher Ainge’s personnel puzzle, but is this edition of The Green capable of making their bones on the defensive end or has that been altered?
With a week remaining in the regular season, the Celtics are swamped with questions and Doc Rivers hasn’t been able to cement a playoff rotation. It was believed that Pat Riley’s Big Three in Miami would be the team riddled with question marks entering the playoffs, but Ainge’s trade deadline machinations have placed the Celtics in a state of flux.
Are Celtics fans wrong to believe that Shaqulle O’Neal is essential for a long playoff run? Probably not. Shaq is the only Celtics big that can potentially deliver what Perk supplied. Shaq is the missing component that can validate Ainge’s decision to move Perk. Boston’s championship hopes are most likely resting with a thirty-nine-old NBA icon, who entered David Stern’s corporate playground in 1992, and has logged 41,907 regular season minutes in his career.
Danny Ainge has chosen to roll the dice with The Big Shamrock.