Don't write off Shaq just yet

FRANK ZICARELLI, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 9:16 PM ET

BOSTON — There are times when Shaquille O’Neal turns back the clock and is able to impose his will, carving his spot in the post, dipping his shoulder, drop-stepping and looking as though no one can stop him.

The Raptors became victims of the vintage Shaq attack when the Diesel was dispatched to the Arizona desert in what would turn out to be an ill-fated move by the Suns, who thought it would be wiser to slow down in a half-court game after years of operating in the full court, a deal Phoenix believed would bear fruit in the post-season.

But there was that one moment of sublime play by O’Neal when Phoenix played host to the Raptors in March of the 2008-’09 season, a moment that is unlikely to be replicated by Shaq Daddy, a game in which O’Neal scored 45 points on 20-of-25 shooting, his first 40-point game in nearly four seasons.

No big man has been as dominant as Shaq during his generation, which began with a greenhorn O’Neal being schooled by the more polished and versatile Hakeem Olajuwon on the NBA championship stage.

Whether Dwight Howard can ever lead his Magic to a title is yet to be seen.

Whether O’Neal provides that much-needed depth, experience and size in the post-season for the Celtics, only time will tell.

What is known is that Shaq is serviceable, can be a presence when he’s avoiding foul trouble, making assertive moves in the post and converting from the foul line when an opponent is left with no other choice but to send him to the charity stripe.

Two nights ago against the New Jersey Nets, O’Neal showed why the Celtics made a prudent move by acquiring him during the off-season, a deal that was designed to give Kendrick Perkins sufficient time to properly recover from knee surgery, a deal that will be best judged this coming post-season.

When Shaq is posting a 20/10 game, the possibilities of what await the Celtics are scary, a team that is built for the playoffs and has the championship pedigree to easily emerge out of the East for the third time in four years.

“He looked like the 2000 Shaq. The ’99 Shaq, the 2001 and 2002 to 2003 to 2004 to 2005 to 2006,’’ the Big Ticket, aka that trash-talking Kevin Garnett mused. “He looked fresh.”

Not since April 2009 has Shaq posted a 20/10 double double game as he did against the Nets Wednesday scoring 25 points and 11 rebounds.

Shaq knows his opportunity to win another title is slowly fading. But Wednesday night provided a glimpse of what O’Neal is capable of producing, a sign that he isn’t exactly washed up.

Imagine the rotation Doc Rivers will have at his disposal when Perkins returns, when Jermaine O’Neal recovers from yet another injury.

Defence, post play and making plays down the stretch are what separate the very good from the elite, the key principles that lead to championships.

History may have been different had Perkins been able to suit against the Lakers in Game 7 of the NBA final this past spring, the outcome a lot more in doubt if Boston’s anchor in the paint had been available.

Even without Perkins, the Celtics had a chance, but their chances would have been greater, which is why a player such as Shaquille O’Neal was brought into Beantown.

As they get set to play host to the Raptors Friday night, the Celtics aren’t championship-worthy in the wake of injuries.

But this is a team that will be positioned for a long post-season run, a journey that looks a lot more promising with Shaq in full attack mode.

Only a complete idiot would think O’Neal is capable of going off more consistently, but at the same time it’ll be foolish to write him off.

The Raptors should be fearful of Friday given Shaq fouled out last Sunday during Boston’s visit to the ACC, limited to 20 minutes and eight points, half of his total coming from the line when he buried all four free throws.

Shaq has bitten his tongue in Boston because he knows the potential rewards that can be achieved.

Against the Nets, his game spoke loud clear.

frank.zicarelli@sunmedia.ca


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