The longest week in the history of life had finally come to an end on Sunday. Shaquille O'Neal, or as Danny Ainge likes to call him, "That Guy Who Can Make Me Look Good," was ready to return to action after sitting out for over two months with a foot injury/Achilles injury/setback/strategic rest. He couldn't have come back at a better time, either. Nenad Krstic was out with a "bone bruise" in his knee and the Celtics were looking to finally get their playoff rotation set as the days count down to the start of the postseason.
For six minutes, everything went off without a hitch.
It didn't take long for Shaq to find himself back on the shelf after coming up lame early in the second quarter of the Celtics' win over the Pistons on Sunday evening. A collective "oh, no" came from Celtics fans everywhere as Shaq hobbled his way to the tunnel with trainers and doctors shadowing him the entire time. It looked bad. Really bad. It was another one of those injuries that happened when nobody was around and it originally appeared to be his Achilles again.
The Celtics, with their ever-reliable injury information, have said that Shaq has a strained right calf. Doc Rivers later said that the strain was minor in comparison to the calf strains suffered by both Kevin Garnett and Von Wafer, which makes me think that the Celtics should probably hire a calf specialist or something to prevent these dreaded things from happening. This "minor" injury, however, barely allowed the Big Band-Aid to walk into the tunnel before needing a wheelchair, a la Paul Pierce '08, to get around. I think I'm allowed to be skeptical of what the Celtics are saying on this one.
Sure, he walked out of the Garden with only a slight limp. The Celtics could be telling the truth about Shaq's injury. He might be fine and ready to go in, let's all say it together now, a week. Like KG said, anything's possible. It doesn't make me feel any better about the Celtics' big man situation in the playoffs. In fact, this was exactly what I feared when the Celtics traded Perk. While Doc and Danny tried to pour the Kool-Aid down our throats, my stomach was doing flips over the thought of relying on the old man to constantly go out and give the Celtics quality minutes in the postseason. Unfortunately, this is worse than my original fear because they're down to only one center, Jermaine O'Neal who isn't the physical presence that they need, has barely played this season and is basically an injury waiting to happen.
So if Shaq does return relatively quickly, can we actually put some faith in his ability to stay healthy for longer than half of a quarter? I can only go by the Jay Bilas-sponsored eye test, which tells me absolutely, positively no way. Regardless of how much time Shaq took off (or in this case, will take off) to rest up for the bright lights of the playoffs, he's still 39 years old. Now, he's just older, injured guy instead of someone ready to go all out for the stretch run. Sure, the eye test has some flaws. However, facts are facts. Shaq is old. Shaq is hurt. The older you get, the more difficult it becomes to recover from injuries. Those are all facts. No eye test needed there.
The Celtics are now back to square one. The questions surrounding the center position haven't gone away and they won't go away until the season is over, no matter how it ends. While Shaq isn't the answer to all of their problems, he certainly helps fill a big void. They have no choice but to rely on him being there when it counts.