WALTHAM, Mass. – Shaquille O’Neal will miss the Boston Celtics’ playoff opener against the New York Knicks tonight with a right calf injury.

General Manager Danny Ainge made the announcement during practice Saturday and said “We don’t know when he’ll be ready.” Game 2 of the best-of-seven Eastern Conference series will be Tuesday night at Boston.

O’Neal received therapy before practice, then ran briefly before stopping because of the pain.

He missed 27 games with a sore right leg, then returned April 4 against Detroit. But he lasted just 5:29, scoring six points before leaving again with the calf problem and has sat out the last six games. The team doctor, Brian McKeon, said the injuries are related.

“He’s actually made progression every day,” McKeon said, “but this is a tough injury. The blood supply in this area is so weak and so poor and (it takes) time. It’s just hard to get enough healing potential in that area.”

He said surgery wasn’t an option and O’Neal would try running again when his leg strength reaches a certain level and he feels comfortable enough to do it.

“He may come back in three days and feel like it’s better” and try to run again, Ainge said. “It’s not like this magic test. The test is, ‘Does it hurt you? Run up and down the court and does it hurt?’ That’s the test.

“We’re just day to day.”

O’Neal played 37 games this season, averaging 20.3 minutes, 9.2 points and 4.8 rebounds. The Celtics signed him and Jermaine O’Neal to two-year contracts in the offseason to play center.

Jermaine O’Neal was limited to 24 games by a knee problem that required surgery, but has played in six of the last eight, including 36:54 in the next-to-last game of the season, a 95-94 overtime loss Monday at Washington.

“If he doesn’t come back (and) Shaq, then we would have some problems,” Celtics Coach Doc Rivers said. “Having (Jermaine O’Neal) back gives us a luxury, and that’s why Danny went out and signed two guys so we’d have one, and right now I’ll take it.” 

MIKE D’ANTONI, the Knicks coach, sat out the playoffs the last two years, his season ending just when it’s supposed to get going.

That left plenty of time for his last postseason appearance to linger, a first-round flameout in 2008 that put an ugly ending on what had been such a rewarding run with the Phoenix Suns.

D’Antoni went on to land a huge contract in New York, which has been good for his bank account but horrible for his won-lost record. He knew the Knicks would be rebuilding, and even though he always said the goal was to make the playoffs, everyone knew there was little chance of that happening.

“Mike’s an unbelievable competitor and wants it as badly as anybody. He knew what he was getting into, he knew it was going to be a couple-of-years project, but that doesn’t make it any easier, especially in New York,” said Steve Kerr, the former Suns president and general manager whose differences with D’Antoni were one of the reasons the coach left a team he loved.

Now D’Antoni finally gets another postseason chance, leading the Knicks into their first playoff appearance since 2004.

No matter what happens, things can’t go any worse than they did in his last playoff.

The Suns opened the 2008 postseason against the Spurs, who ended their season in two of the previous three years. Phoenix made a surprising trade at the deadline, dealing Shawn Marion for Shaquille O’Neal.

But they had surged into the playoffs, believing they had figured out how to play with their changed roster. And things went well when they led the Spurs for much of Game 1 in San Antonio and were seconds from seizing the home-court advantage.

“We should have won the first game and we blew it,” D’Antoni said. “We lost our confidence the way we lost in double-overtime. “We should have beaten them like three times that game it just kind of unraveled.”

Tim Duncan made his first 3-pointer of the season with three seconds left to force the second overtime, then Manu Ginobili made the winning basket with 1.8 seconds left. San Antonio went on to win in five games.

 


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