Shaq’s Health Holds Series in the Balance

Shaquille O'Neal is likely to be dressed sharply again for game 2

If you want to talk x-factor’s, there probably isn’t more of an x-factor than Shaquille O’Neal. They might as well put his picture beside the definition on Urban Dictionary. Then the kids will understand.

Shaq has been struggling with calf problems the past three months and his missed all five Celtic playoff games so far. Even though Shaq scrimmaged on Monday he is considered doubtful for game 2 against the Heat.

There’s an awful lot of fuss over a 39-year-old guy who averaged just over 20 minutes a game this season in 37 games. Too bad for the Celtics there is a good reason behind all the worry.

With all the intriguing position matchups the return of a healthy Shaq could represent a shift in the balance of power. Advantage Boston.

For 20 minutes a game the Heat will have no one that can stand up to the Big Diesel.

The lesser of the two O’Neal’s, Jermaine, has done a decent enough job for a guy who was supposed to be, at best, the third string center on the Celtics. Like Shaq, Jermaine O’Neal could probably also pass off as 39 year’s old out on the court. However, various health issues have taken the explosiveness out of the former perennial all-star.

The extended minutes that Jermaine has been getting are not ideal yet with Nenad Kristic only seeing 5:41 of floor time in game 1, the Celtics are going to need another solid performance from big baby-faced O’Neal.

Solid might not be enough for the Celtics though.

This is where Shaq comes in. His benefit goes far beyond the lane presence he provides. With Ilgauskas or Anthony “clogging” the lane for the Heat, Shaq forces the defence to pay attention to him. He might not have the scoring prowess that he did just two years ago but he still has the ability to take some of the pressure off of his teammates. That ability could be the difference in a game.

No matter which way you spin it, the relief his teammates receive is greater than whatever Jermaine O’Neal can offer.

Shaq even put up 18 points early in the year against the vertically endowed Memphis Grizzlies.

The mind-boggling trade of Kendrick Perkins has put the Celtics in a tough spot. Part of the reasoning behind that trade must have been the confidence in Danny Ainge that they would only face scoring challenged big men. No Dwight Howard, no problem.

I guess that plan hinged on the insurance of a healthy Shaquille O’Neal.

Maybe Danny Ainge was also thinking the lack of quality size in the Eastern Conference should allow Shaquille O’Neal to be enough of a difference maker. That plan still holds water as there is nothing to suggest that Shaq isn’t the man who holds the final key to the series.

Boston’s closing line-up may not feature a true center but if they are constantly having to claw their way back from double-digit deficits it really isn’t too important that their 4th quarter line-up features Big Baby instead of the Big Aristotle.

Doc Rivers says Shaq may be “likely” to play in game 3 at Boston. With the window of opportunity closing in on the original big three they had better hope that the 4-time champion is ready to go by Saturday.

Related: Shaq to the Celtics. Sure, why not?

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