HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS — Watching Shaquille O’Neal hobble to the locker room Sunday had to scare the shamrocks out of Celtics fans worldwide.
His return had been talked about for weeks, particularly since that trade deadline move that sent Kendrick Perkins to Oklahoma City and left Shaq as the Celtics’ low-post savior for the playoffs. But now a strained calf has Celtics fans biting their nails, wondering when the Big Shamrock will be ready for action with the start of the playoffs just days away.
The calf strain O’Neal suffered has nothing to do with the Achilles injury that cost him the last two months, per Celtics coach Doc Rivers. Still, Rivers admitted that what went down Sunday was “scary,” and especially so for a team that’s already trying to get injured bigs (Jermaine O’Neal is back, Nenad Krstic is on the way) back into a groove.
How much longer with the Celtics be without Shaq? WEEI’s Paul Flannery says that’s just one of the questions the Celtics need answered this morning. Rivers tried:
“I don’t know, is the answer,” he said. “I don’t think very long honestly. That’s what [team doctor Brian] McKeon and [the medical staff] thought, that it’s very minor. Scary, more than anything. We’ll see.”
Will this affect your plans to play him if he can come back during the regular season?
“I don’t know what to do, honestly. My inclination is not because he needs to play and we have to play at full tilt in six games, so I don’t know the answer yet.”
Celtics fans weren’t the only ones gasping in horror over the weekend.
Lakers fans had a scare of their own when the linchpins to the low-post advantage that’s helped power them to back-to-back titles, Pau Gasol and Andrew Bynum, both went down with knee injuries in their loss to the Nuggets.
Bynum didn’t finish the game, he was held out for precautionary reasons after aggravating the sore right knee he had surgically repaired last July. Gasol did finish the game after tweaking his left knee, but he’ll have an MRI today to determine the extent of the damage.
More on both of the Lakers’ big men from the Los Angeles Times:
Bynum left quietly with 7 minutes 15 seconds to play after [Lamar] Odom fell into him after missing a shot.
“I’m all right,” said Bynum, who didn’t re-enter the game despite telling Coach Phil Jackson he could play. “I think they were a little concerned.”
Bynum finished with eight points and 16 rebounds.
Gasol’s injury was more pronounced after a hard but clean foul by Denver center Nene early in the third quarter.
Gasol stayed down for a minute after his right knee bent back during an off-balance landing. He shot a free throw, remained on the court for a minute and went to the locker room. He reentered the game a few minutes later and finished with 16 points and 12 rebounds.
“It allowed me to keep playing, so hopefully it will be nothing,” Gasol said. “There’s some swelling in there.”
If nothing else, Sunday should serve as a reminder to us all just how delicate the balance of power can be when injuries are factored into the mix this close to the playoffs.
The title hopes for both the Celtics and Lakers change dramatically with any long-term bad news involving the men mentioned above. The Lakers couldn’t hold off the Nuggets inside without Bynum and with a somewhat-hobbled Gasol.
One injury to the wrong player changes everything in an instant.
When Chris Paul crumpled to the floor in the second quarter against the Pacers and clutched his knee, all of New Orleans felt it. Luckily, Paul was fine and the Hornets went on to win that game.
But the injury scare was very real, even only for a few minutes, same as it is everywhere else when the wrong player goes down!