With O'Neal on board, Celtics looking for redemption

Life goes on, apparently.

If revenge is a dish best served cold, the just dessert — jiggling Jello? — that the Los Angeles Lakers set before the Boston Celtics on June 17 was chilled to perfection.

Of course, it should have been, after six decades in the refrigerator.

Remember Game 6 in 2008, when the Celtics sent the Lakers home as crispy critters in a 131-92 rout that recalled the horrors of the rivalry from 1959 to 1984, when the Lakers went 0-8 in NBA Finals meetings, featuring Frank Selvy's miss, Jack Kent Cooke's balloons, James Worthy's interception, Magic Johnson's dribbling out the clock, the Sauna Game, the 3 a.m. fire alarm, fans rocking their bus.

This Celtics' loss was worse.

At least the Lakers never blew a 13-point second-half lead in Game 7 with a title within their grasp.

The Celtics did, with the rivalry hanging in the balance, on June 17, one of the highest points in Lakerdom and the lowest here.

A Lakers loss would have left them 2-10 against the Celtics in the Finals and 0-2 in this era, marking them as Celtics bobos forever.

"Yeah, and we would have liked that, I can tell you that," Celtics coach Doc Rivers said, laughing.

But that's not what happened.

Instead, the Lakers rallied, improbably enough, outscoring the Celtics 47-30 in the last 23:15, with Kobe Bryant scoring only 15 of the points.

Rivers didn't watch the Game 7 video all summer but finally was strong enough to view it with his staff this preseason.

"I thought we played terrifically for the most part," he said. "We got crushed on the boards [53-40], and at the end of the day, that created their free-throw advantage. I always hear about the free throws they shot [37 to the Celtics' 17], but the extra possessions created that. It was obviously the toughest loss of my career and every other player there.

"We don't like it the way it is now. Basically, it's 1-1 in our new rivalry. We would love to have a tiebreaker."

Of course, there's the little matter of getting out of the East.

The new — or projected — scourge, the Miami Heat, is here for Tuesday's opener, so the Celtics are still in the spotlight, if only by reflection.

Not that Miami is ballyhooed, but when the floor in Tampa, Fla., was too slick for the teams to play their exhibition finale against Orlando, a member of the ESPN crew there to televise it nationally told Magic coach Stan Van Gundy: "You don't have to go out there. We'll just have the Heat scrimmage."

Of course, the Celtics have the Big Shamrock, previously known as the man who was going to Win a Ring for the King, the Big Cactus, the Big Aristotle, et al.

Yes, it's Shaquille O'Neal, 38, playing for tip money at $1.4 million, in his pursuit of that elusive fifth title.

That would tie him with former teammate Kobe Bryant, who, asked what it meant after winning No. 5, blurted, "I just got one more than Shaq!"

Since scorn rolls downhill, O'Neal is out of taunts.

"Yeah, I heard it," O'Neal said. "My whole career I've been the measuring stick. Glad to see I'm still relevant. I would've been more upset if Tim Duncan made the comment. I don't compete with guards.

"He [Bryant] has five. Congratulations. But he had help getting three. He had a lot of help."

Coincidentally or not, Duncan has four titles, too, and might be a longer shot than Shaq to get No. 5.

With his huge personality intact, O'Neal took over this town in the time it took to sit down in Harvard Square, pretending to be a statue.

Holding court with the media as never before, enjoying the attention he knows won't last much longer, O'Neal has removed pressure from grateful teammates.

Unlike every other stop, however, when Shaq's coach points out the strain he puts on defenses, it's not a compliment.

"I think Shaq gets it as much as any player I remember as far as the media and the public and the fans," Rivers said.

"As long as he does what we need him to do … we just want to make sure he's not a statue defensively. Listen, we know what they're going to do. We did, whenever Shaq came on the floor, you run pick-and-roll."

At least the Celtics know what the Heat will do, and it takes their minds off last spring.


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