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MARK HEISLER / ON THE NBA

Shaquille O'Neal is showing his true colors with Celtics

The former Lakers great has worn many NBA uniforms, but he's been a good fit only in certain places, like L.A. . . . and, now, Boston. On Sunday, Shaq and the rest of the beefy, beastly Celtics visit Staples Center with mayhem on their minds.

January 29, 2011|Mark Heisler
  • Celtics center Shaquille O'Neal plugs his ears as the crowd chants his name during a game against the Raptors in Toronto.
Celtics center Shaquille O'Neal plugs his ears as the crowd chants… (Mark Blinch / Reuters )

You loved him in purple and gold.

You missed him when he put on the red, white and black in Miami.

You may have lost track when he was the Big Cactus in Phoenix before donning wine and gold in Cleveland, where he was going to "win a ring for the King."

But now . . . green?

Et tu, Shaquille?

Yes, Shaquille O'Neal is a Boston Celtic, even it it's not the way it was, as a role player in the shadow of the Big Three, bound for the bench as soon as Kendrick Perkins is in shape.

Worse, these people are particular about who can be a Celtic.

In 1976, Celtic Nation almost seceded when Red Auerbach brought in Sidney Wicks.

Bob McAdoo, another pariah, er, acquisition not strictly in the tradition of Bill Russell, sulked through his stay in 1979 — 20 games — sleeping on teammate Cedric Maxwell's couch.

Of course, Wicks was from UCLA and McAdoo wound up a Laker.

In other words, anyone from Southern California, or who looked as if he'd fit here, was the devil.

Then there's Shaq, a Laker for eight seasons, a Celtic for three months and their new most popular player.

At 38, Still Shaq After All These Years, he pretended to be a statue in Harvard Square amid thrilled onlookers, pigeons and gathering TV crews.

Then he donned a tuxedo to conduct the Boston Pops.

Now, it's the Kennedys, clam chowder, Ted Williams, Bobby Orr, Larry Bird and Shaq.

"I didn't realize people in Boston were so nice," O'Neal said last week with the Celtics on their way to Los Angeles.

"I used to get booed. People would talk trash. It's been great."

As far as this rivalry of rivalries goes, who could ask for anything more?

Can you imagine Kobe Bryant pretending he doesn't care about these Celtics?

Think Shaq might have an opinion or two?

Actually, there is something more to ask for. Both teams have to make the Finals.

After last spring's heartbreaker-for-the ages with the Celtics blowing a 13-point third-quarter lead in Game 7, they're dreaming of seeing the Lakers again.

Unfortunately, the Lakers could use more than good wishes . . . like a player they could borrow until then.

I'd go with Paul Pierce, but Ray Allen would do. Or Kevin Garnett. Or Rajon Rondo. Or Glen Davis.

Or Shaq.

Some places he fits, some he doesn't.

He didn't in Cleveland, which surprised Coach Mike Brown, who tried him alongside Zydrunas Ilgauskas in a unit that might not have beaten a glacier downcourt.

That was a good fit compared with Phoenix, where Shaq looked like he did as a giant jockey dwarfing his horse in his Vitaminwater commercial.

Shaq fit wonderfully as a Laker, give or take a few psychodynamics.

In Boston, he's perfect.

Remember how rough the Celtics used to be?

Remember last spring, when the Lakers won Game 3 in Boston to go up 2-1, looking for a fast KO?

With Bryant playing off Rondo, daring him to shoot, Boston's magic man, who'd averaged 17 points and 10 assists in the first three rounds, dropped to 14-6.

With the Lakers holding all the cards, the Celtics got physical, pounding them in the "Shrek and Donkey" Game 4, led by Nate Robinson and Davis.

With the Lakers ready for rough stuff in Game 5, the Celtics pounded then again.

If not for the 48-hour coast-to-coast turnaround, serving the Celtics up like a pig with an apple in its mouth in Game 6, and the Lakers' rally in Game 7 with Bryant out on his feet, recent NBA history would be turned on its head.

Those Celtics were smurfs compared with this team.

As menaces go, they were the sawed-off kind, with only Garnett and Rasheed Wallace over 6-9 in stocking feet.

Now they have Shaq (7-1, 325), Jermaine O'Neal (6-11, 255) and Semih Erden (7-0, 240) to go with Garnett (6-11, 253), Perkins (6-10, 280, in sneakers, with platform heels) and Davis (listed at 6-9, 289, measured at 6-7¾ at the 2007 predraft camp).

For the last three seasons, the Celtics were 71-10 before Christmas with their molten ferocity when the injuries hit.

After that, it was hell, with last season the most hellish, dropping to No. 4 in the East.

The party line is they always knew what they could do in the playoffs.

Not that they were sure with General Manager Danny Ainge questioning their effort, Allen on the block and retirement looking better and better to Coach Doc Rivers.

Somehow, they did it, even if it took Cleveland's deconstructing itself in the nick of time.

When it ended unhappily, they took their broken hearts home, reloaded and came back, looking like a herd of buffalo with a bad attitude.

Remember last Feb. 18 after they beat the Lakers here, when Doc docked everyone in the traveling party $100, hid the $2,600 in the ceiling tiles and challenged his players to return for it?

(This time, we're going over their dressing room with pickaxes and sensory gear as soon as they're on the bus.)

Whether they leave anything else here, on the floor or in the ceiling, even on crutches with their heads swathed in bandages, these people mean business.

mark.heisler@latimes.com

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