Jermaine O’Neal, the healthier of the two O’Neal brothers at this juncture, joined the Celtics Monday night in Indiana in the midst of a four-game road trip. After the team took a day off yesterday, Julian Benbow of The Boston Globe reports that the former Miami big man participated fully with the team in practice today and barring a setback, will return to the floor tomorrow night against San Antonio for the first time in three months after undergoing left knee surgery.
Here’s a few quotes from the important parties, after the team had a very lengthy 2 1/2 hour practice in San Antonio.
“I’m going to play tomorrow,” O’Neal said. “We talked a little bit about me playing back-to-back games. Obviously, it’s sensitive, but I told them the plan is to play back-to-back games, the plan is to play as many minutes as I can without limitation.”
Rivers joked, “I’m going to start him. Play him 40 minutes.”
“I thought his quickness and his activity [were surprising],” Rivers said. “He didn’t surprise me where he didn’t pick up some stuff. I don’t blame him for that, but I was happy. I was very happy with it.”
Over his two month absence, O’Neal had been working out with Tim Grover in Chicago, and Rivers said O’Neal’s conditioning was solid. “I think he came out one time in practice.”
Rivers said he’ll let O’Neal’s wind dictate how much he plays.
Oh Doc, getting in another dig at Jermaine, even when it was a successful day.
Here’s a few more highlights courtesy of The Boston Herald
“A good question – I don’t know,” O’Neal said of how much he could actually play tomorrow night. “The first workout back I was so gassed, excited, that I almost didn’t have anything in the tank and it was just from going through drills. Today I felt pretty good, but tomorrow I’ll be gassed, so I don’t know what kind of extended minutes the coach has planned.
“I’ll just do the same thing I’ve been doing,” he said. “When I left Chicago it felt like the job was done – all the work in the weight room, the therapy. So you don’t worry about that. I don’t want to go back to the position I was in six or eight weeks ago.”
O’Neal, who last played on Jan. 10 in a game against Houston, and had knee surgery on Feb. 4, can’t remember his last practice, but that’s not the worst of it.
“Funny, I couldn’t even remember the last time I got on the bus or the team plane,” he said. “It all felt good. It felt new. This has been the hardest year of my career. But it would be the best year of my career if we win the championship.”
Wow, the first part of that last quote there says it all……
In all seriousness though, this news is almost too good to be true. With just nine games left, and the C’s really only having three legitamate bigs the past week, one of which is playing with no confidence (Krstic), getting Jermaine back right on schedule (and in seemingly good shape) is a huge plus for this team down the stretch.
Doc has been (rightly) tough on J.O. (as have I) all year when it comes to his availability, injuries and overall play, but once again like last year with Sheed, all will be forgotten quickly if he comes up big when the team needs it the most. It would be foolish to think that Jermaine single-handedly will get this team back on track right now, but if J.O. at least provides a breath of fresh air and a shot blocking presence to this crew, it will be a major boon to this team’s chances of hanging on to the two seed.
In other good news, Von Wafer who is probably long forgotten by C’s fans at this juncture, also practiced with the team down in San Antonio. I spoke with Von before the Bobcats debacle last Friday in Boston, and he said the plan was to try to return Thursday night in San Antonio, so this squad could have a couple familiar faces back in uniform tomorrow night.