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The action on the court leaves Shaquille O'Neal and the Boston bench spellbound.Celtics center Shaquille O'Neal has missed 10 games this season due to minor right leg ailments, but Boston has managed without The Big Soreness, posting an 8-2 record during those 10 games.
While O'Neal's absence this season hasn't hindered the Celtics too drastically in terms of wins and losses, the team has seen slight drop-offs in two key statistical areas while he's been out: field goal percentage and points in the paint.
With O'Neal (sore right hip) set to be sidelined for what's likely the next two games, these are two key areas to watch moving forward.
O'Neal is shooting a career-high 67.7 percent from the field this season, so it should not come as a surprise that Boston has shot a higher field goal percentage when he's in the lineup. In the 33 games O'Neal appeared in, the Celtics have averaged a field goal percentage of 50.8 percent, which is even higher than the league-leading 50.3 percent they've shot for season overall. In the 10 games O'Neal missed, the Celtics' average field goal percentage has dipped to 48.6 percent, which would still be good enough to lead the league, but obviously pales in comparison to the figure averaged when O'Neal plays.
For the season, the Celtics are averaging near 44 points per game in the paint, good for fifth in the entire NBA. One of the main reasons why the Celtics are leading the league in field goal percentage is because they score a significant amount of their points on high-percentage shots taken close to the rim. O'Neal impacts the number of points the Celtics score in the paint, similar to how he impacts their field goal percentage. In the 33 games O'Neal played in, the Celtics have averaged 44.4 points per game in the paint. In the 10 games O'Neal missed, the Celtics averaged a slightly lower figure of 42.6 points in the paint (which would rank them ninth in the league).
While Doc Rivers has routinely reaffirmed that he does not want the 38-year old O'Neal playing too many minutes in the regular season (he's currently averaging a career-low 21.3 minutes per game), the Celtics have posted higher averages in field goal percentage and points in the paint when O'Neal has eclipsed the 20-minute mark. In the 25 games in which O'Neal has played 20 minutes, the Celtics have shot 51.6 percent from the field and averaged 45.4 points in the paint.
O'Neal was forced to sit out Saturday's 85-83 loss to the Washington Wizards and the Celtics appeared to miss his post presence, particularly late in the game. The Celtics finished the game having scored only 38 points in the paint, their sixth lowest total of the entire season and six points less than their season average. In addition, the team shot just 43 percent from the field for the game -- far below their season average.
In the fourth quarter in particular, the Celtics converted only five of their 23 field goal attempts for 11 points. According to ESPN's shot chart for the game, 15 of those 23 attempts in the final quarter were taken outside of the paint. After the game, Rivers lamented his team's shot selection in the final frame.
"They were good shots, but it was all jump shots," he told reporters in Washington. "My problem was our pace. We were walking the ball up the floor, we dribbled the life out of the game. We didn't go to the post. I bet we called 20 post [plays] and the ball never touched it. It was a jump shooting contest. When you're up 10 or 15, jump shots are easy. When you know you've squandered a lead and then you're wide open, all of a sudden that trigger gets a little tighter, and I really thought that happened tonight. The shots were great, but [there were] too many of them, as far as I was concerned."
After practice on Monday afternoon, Rivers downplayed the idea that not having O'Neal for Saturday's contest hurt his team's desire to pump the ball into the post. O'Neal, however, has proven before that he can be an effective low post scorer in the fourth quarter of games when his team is in need of an offensive spark.
In last Wednesday's 86-82 victory over the Detroit Pistons, the Celtics found themselves facing a 61-58 deficit heading into the final frame. O'Neal checked in for Glen Davis with 8:18 to play and Boston down by five, and he proceeded to score seven points and grab three rebounds over the next 6:50. All three of O'Neal's field goals in the fourth quarter came in the paint and when he checked out of the game for good at the 1:28 mark, the Celtics owned an 82-80 advantage.
Said O'Neal afterwards: "It was an ugly game, and I just wanted to do my part to try to get us close to where we would be able to win."