The 7-foot-1 center checked into Boston's 97-81 win over the Miami Heat in Game 3 of the Eastern Conference semifinal series with 2:41 left in the first quarter Saturday. He received a big cheer when he went to the scorer's table, and a standing ovation when he went into the game.
He was not much of a factor. He scored two points, with zero rebounds, in 8:29 for his first action of the postseason.
O'Neal had played just 5 minutes, 29 seconds since Feb. 1 because of injuries to his right calf and Achilles tendon.
Celtics coach Doc Rivers had said O'Neal would come off the bench. The coach didn't know how much to expect from the 7-foot-1 center.
"It's more the power and the force he can bring us," Rivers said before the game. "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 kind of fills a role for this team, he's terrific for us. That's what we're hoping he can do."
Rivers had said he'd let his eyeballs determine how long O'Neal could 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," Rivers said pregame. "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 a ton of weight since getting injured; that's just hard work and he's done it."
Information from ESPNBoston.com's Chris Forsberg and The Associated Press was used in this report.