Center Position Showing Strength Despite Injuries

WALTHAM - The Boston Celtics were back on the practice court today, just 14 hours after their drumming of the Washington Wizards, to prep for their second showdown against the Oklahoma City Thunder in a 12-day span. The C’s knocked off the Thunder 92-83 on Nov. 7 in Oklahoma City and they will meet again tomorrow night in the TD Garden.

Although that big game looms just a day away, most of the talk at practice concerned last night’s dominating performance in the Garden. Washington didn’t stand a chance while Boston was clicking on all cylinders, and it all started with Shaquille O’Neal.

The Big Shamrock was signed in August to be a complementary piece at the center position, but due to Jermaine O’Neal’s string of injuries, Shaq has been forced into a centerpiece role. He is now the starting center, and he’s playing like he doesn’t want to lose that distinction.

Rivers loves what he’s seeing out of his big(gest) man and hopes that the impressive play, which has featured two straight games of at least 13 points and six rebounds, continues.

“The fact that he’s creating offense as well for us, with his scoring, has been very good for us,” said Rivers. “That’s something, I don’t know if we’ll get it every night, but when we get it it’s good.”

Another center who has been an enormous help, somewhat surprisingly, is rookie Semih Erden. The first-year pro out of Turkey has been leaned on heavily during the early portion of this season due to on again, off again injuries with both of Boston’s O’Neals. He tied a career high with nine points last night – which, interestingly enough, he matched during the team’s first game against Oklahoma City – and fought through a banged up nose that took a hit as he slammed home a huge dunk in the fourth quarter.

Many basketball fans look at European players and assume that they are soft and want to avoid as much contact as possible. Rivers believes Erden is a different kind of European breed and subtly compared him to players like Manu Ginobili and Andres Nocioni.

“I think he’s a physical player by nature anyway,” Rivers said. “You do give – the Europeans have that (soft) label. I don’t think Semih goes by that. I think he’s more of an Argentinian. ‘Cause that whole group of guys are as aggressive as any group you can get.

“Semih’s more injured than everybody on our team, really. The fact that he’s playing shows – you know that European thing? – shows that’s not true, because he’s showing amazing toughness.”

The goal is to have Erden make it through the next few weeks while Jermaine O’Neal regains his health, and then after that the 7-foot rookie may miss a large chunk of the season. As Rivers noted today, “If [Erden] goes out, he may be out a while. His shoulder’s in pretty bad shape.”

Boston needs Erden to continue his solid combination with Shaq and hold the tide until the C’s get their other O’Neal healthy and back in the lineup – hopefully for good.