Pregame: Shaq & the force

BOSTON -- After what seems like daily headlines for the better part of the past three months, the ShaqWatch ends Saturday night as Celtics coach Doc Rivers confirmed before tip-off that Shaquille O'Neal will make his much anticipated return to game action in Game 3 of an Eastern Conference semifinal series against the Miami Heat.

O'Neal, limited to 5½ minutes of game action since Feb. 1 due to right Achilles and calf issues, will suit up for the first time since April 3 and will see time as a reserve. What can Boston expect from the Big Shamrock? Rivers said he truly has no idea, but knows what O'Neal has the potential to provide.

"It's more the power and the force he can bring us," said Rivers. "He can do that, in some ways, offensively with his duck-ins, and he can do that defensively in the rebounding area. And, listen, it's no fun to drive on Shaq. Our guys know that from practice.

"We'll let him dive in, [I told him], 'Just be you.' Obviously, Shaq can't do the things he did 15 years ago. And when he does do that, he doesn't play very well. When he comes in and kinda fills a role for this team, he's terrific for us. That's what we're hoping he can do."

Rivers said he'll let his eyeballs determine how long O'Neal can play for. To make room for O'Neal, the Celtics have deactivated point guard Carlos Arroyo. Quipped Rivers: "We've grown."

One thing Rivers stressed was how hard O'Neal worked to get to this point.

"I don’t think people realize how much he’s gone through to get to this point," said Rivers. "A week ago, two weeks ago, we weren't sure if he was going to play. As we got closer, you could see him improving. He’s had to put in a lot of time, he’s lost ton of weight since getting injured; That's just hard work and he’s done it."

Rivers said all his other players are healthy and ready to go.