Boston Celtics: Did Shaquille O'Neal Earn the Starting Spot on Opening Night?

Tom SmithCorrespondent IOctober 26, 2010

BOSTON, MA - OCTOBER 26: Shaquille O'Neal #36 of the Boston Celtics prepares to shoot a free-throw shot against the Miami Heat to the basket at the TD Banknorth Garden on October 26, 2010 in Boston, Massachusetts. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Jim Rogash/Getty Images)
Jim Rogash/Getty Images

The Boston Celtics opened the 2010-11 NBA season with a home win over the much-hyped Miami Heat. The victory was far more convincing than the 88-80 final score would suggest.

Granted, neither team was anywhere near "mid-season form," but there were still a few meaningful observations that could be made.

First, the Celtics really know what they're doing. The team identity is fully intact. Unlike the Heat, who are clearly still finding their way, the Celtics looked like a team full of veterans who all know their role.

Sure, the shots weren't falling, but that was relatively expected.

We were hoping to see execution—we got it.

We were hoping to see a vibrant Kevin Garnett—we got it.

We were hoping to see that the Celtics defense didn't leave with Tom Thibodeau when he took the head coach job with the Chicago Bulls—no such worry.

Ray Allen, Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett and Rajon Rondo all performed to early-season expectations. No surprises, and no warning signs.

The big question marks were in the middle. How would Shaquille O'Neal and Jermaine O'Neal play in a meaningful game?

Shaq got the start primarily because Jermaine's injuries in the preseason prevented him from getting enough run with the first team.

The debate started from the moment the "O'Neal Brothers" were both in the fold: which veteran big man should play with the starters?

We were told that Jermaine was promised that he would be the starter until Kendrick Perkins recovered from his devastating knee injury. We were told that Shaq pledged to do whatever it took to help the team win, including coming off the bench. We were told that Shaq had embraced his role with the "Boston Bench Mob."


Jermaine is the more mobile of the two, and the better pick-and-roll defender. This fact suggested that he would be able to better hold his own with the second unit.

It was supposed that playing with Garnett, one of the better pick-and-roll defenders in the league, would hide Shaq's shortcomings on D and allow the "Big Shamrock" to be the uber-physical goalkeeper.

Some were thinking that Shaq should be the starter simply because he was too much of a liability on defense to play with the reserves.

Well, it turns out that Shaq may have begun making his case that he should be the full-time starter, at least until Perkins returns.

The 38-year-old mountain of a man did not exactly light it up, but he played very well with Garnett.

Garnett was his typical active self on defense—not that guy dragging his leg up and down the court last season—and that allowed Shaq to do his thing. More than one member of the Heat ended up on their keister after a big blow from the diesel.

Shaq opened the game with two missed layups, but that was probably nerves. It is a little disappointing to see how much trouble Shaq has elevating—both balls should have been dunks—but I suppose aging cannot be helped.

Shaquille finished the game with nine points and seven rebounds in just 18 minutes of play. He made only three of his seven field goal attempts, but his most important contribution was obviously on the defensive end.

The Boston Celtics are striving to be the best defensive team in the NBA. Shaq is looking like he could play a significant role in making that happen.