For most of last night's game between the Celtics and Pistons, it looked like the Pistons were going to win.
The Celtics opened the game up with a five point lead but Detroit rallied back to tie it. Boston again tried to pull away in the second quarter by building a seven point lead, but the Pistons came right back again, ending the first half with a three-point advantage.
It wasn't until the fourth quarter that Boston started to take control of their home-court. Ray Allen may have made the shot that gave the team the lead, but the man to lead them there was a 38-year old Shaq.
"I thought in the first half we were a bit 'miscombobulated' at times," said Kevin Garnett. "[In the second half] we did a better job at adjusting, but Shaq led that charge. He doesn't usually play a lot in the fourth...but tonight he was assertive. I'm not going to say he was calling the plays but he was initiating a lot of the talk and the communication."
"The whole team was flat; I just had to pick it up," O'Neal said.
With the Celtics facing their largest deficit of the night with 7:52 to go in the fourth, it was Shaq that took matters into his own hands to spark his team back, fueling a 9-1 Boston run to get the C's back in the game.
O'Neal got things started with an alley-oop from Rondo. On the very next possession he layed in another dish from Rondo to cut the Pistons lead in half. Before the Pistons could respond, Shaq picked off a bad pass from Rodney Stuckey, leading to a Rondo-to-Pierce layup that narrowed the Pistons' lead to two. Trailing by three on Boston's next possession, it was again all Shaq, grabbing the offensive rebound off Rondo's missed jumper, laying it in and drawing the foul. Shaq's free throw tied the game with five minutes to play and suddenly the Celtics were back in it.
"I'm not really playing a lot of minutes. I'm not really tired," said O'neal after the game. "We haven't been rebounding that well, so I wanted to try to get every loose ball, every rebound, and when I got back in in the fourth quarter, we were down [eight], so we just had to try to get everybody involved
"...I just felt like I had to do something -- dive on the floor, knock people around, get the crowd involved, and I think I helped a little bit."
On the night, Shaq had 12 points, 12 rebounds (a season-high), three steals and two blocks. Most of that production came in the fourth quarter. Shaq scored seven in the fourth, all of which came in that 1:45 that sparked the Celtics back in the game, adding three rebounds and two steals in the quarter.
Some questioned the move to sign Shaq in the off-season, asking what a 38-year old could bring the club at this stage of his career. In fact, if it weren't for Shaq, he may not even be in Boston.
"He kind of recruited me," said Rivers on WEEI's the Dennis & Callahan show this morning. "Shaq was on our radar but we were actually talking to other guys. I got a call from Shaq out of the clear blue sky and he wanted to meet. I'd landed in the airplane [at Orlando] and he called me. 10 minutes later he's literally sitting in my office at my house and we talked about coming to Boston."
Shaq's drive to win a fifth championship is what motivated him to join the Celtics, saying in his introductory press-conference, "In my book I would like to see Shaquille O'Neal have 5 or 6 championships" while adding that he wouldn't be satisfied with his legacy if he retired with any less than that.
So far, the move to Boston has worked out well for the C's. O'neal's been one of the most reliable players on a Celtics team battered by injuries. He's appeared in 32 of the 41 games that Boston has played and some of his most inspired performances have come in the last three games.
Against Charlotte last Friday night, the Celtics were virtually out of Centers after Semih picked up three early fouls. It was Shaq who stepped up when needed, playing for a season-high 35 minutes and scoring 23 points on 10/12 shooting. Monday night, he battled foul trouble while taking on Dwight Howard and last night the team couldn't have won the game without him.
"I thought Shaq was the difference in the game," said coach Doc Rivers. "His size and his energy. He won the game for us tonight. He did all the little things. Crashed the glass, was physical, blocked shots, he was absolutely wonderful tonight."