Sunday, April 3, 2011

Waiting for Superman

Just looking at Shaq, the reason for his “Superman” nickname is pretty clear. He’s big (325 lbs), tall (7-1) and strong. At the old age of 39 the big man has still remained a force to be reckoned with in the NBA. However, he hasn’t been that force since February 1st after being sidelined with a nagging Achilles injury.

Shaq now needs to take on the role
of Superman and save the team.
The Celtics signed Shaq with the intention of having him play off the bench behind Kendrick Perkins in the second half of the season. The NBA superstar wasn’t expected to carry the bulk of the team as he’d been so used to for most of his career. Instead, Shaq was signing on as a role player, a complimentary piece.

Now his Superman nickname may take on another meaning. The Celtics need Shaq to save the day.

A lot has changed for the Celtics since the last time Shaquille O’Neal took the court. Kendrick Perkins is gone, traded to Oklahoma City. The once top-seeded C’s have gone on a downward spiral to third place in the East. Boston has lost four of their last six. Amidst the slide, Celtics fans have seen the discouraging (Charlotte), the inspiring (San Antonio) and the just downright confusing (Indiana, Atlanta).

The source of the Celtics’ struggles is hard to pin down. Some have pointed to the trade as the reason while others would blame apathy. For a Celtics team that flipped a switch come playoff time after coasting through the second half of the season, that’s not exactly out of the realm of possibility.

One thing is for certain though. If the Celtics are going to make a serious run at Banner 18, they’re not going to do it with the unit that’s been blowing fourth quarter leads and losing to teams with sub .500 records the past month. They’re going to need the help of Shaq.

With O’Neal in the lineup for the first half of the season, the Celtics looked unstoppable at times. Shaq fit in right away in the Celtics system and gave the Celtics an offensive presence at starting center for the first time in the big three era. It’d be hard to argue that Rondo didn’t enjoy that — his numbers skyrocketed in the beginning of the season as he averaged around 15 assists a game. In fact, that formula was largely the reason why Celtics GM Danny Ainge pulled the trigger on the Perkins deal.

“The truth was we were playing much better with Shaq as a starter this year than at any time with Perk,” said Ainge.

When Shaq is on the floor, it opens things up for Boston’s other future hall of famers offensively as well. No more doubling Pierce or KG, and if Rondo is knocking down jumpers like he was in San Antonio and Atlanta — look out NBA.

That said, O’neal is 39. He’s oldest player in the NBA. Is it a little concerning for Celtics fans that this is the man whom Boston’s championship hopes now rest on? Yeah, more than a little. Shaq isn’t the same player he once was. Unlike the real Superman, he can’t carry a roster of 15 on his back. Not anymore. Yet, a healthy Shaq is the biggest key to an NBA title for Boston.

Right now the Celtics are ailing. Jermaine O’Neal just made his return Thursday night against the Spurs, yet similar to Shaq his minutes need to be closely monitored. It did very little to help matters when Nenad Krstic went down that same night in San Antonio. Krstic’s MRI came back negative and he could return as early as Tuesday but still the team is in rough shape.

Earlier this week, Ainge said that Shaq should be expected to make his return either tonight against the Pistons or Tuesday against the Sixers. If that’s true, I couldn’t think of a better time for a comeback.

Right now, the team’s in distress. They need Superman.

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