The Celtics enter game 2 without Shaquille O'Neal in the paint. This is no surprise by now. In fact, this has become the norm rather than the exception. If you ask Doc or anyone from the team, he's "getting better" and "could play soon." He's been a couple of weeks away for countless weeks. Of course the question of when he will start playing is just one part of the equation. The follow on question of how long he'll be able to play is impossible to answer.
So the logical next question happens to be the title of this post. Can we win without Shaq? For one game, the answer was yes (if barely). For one series against the Knicks, I'm guessing the answer is still going to be yes. What about after that? Are we banking on Shaq to finally return in round 2? Do we need him healthy and spry to raise Banner 18?
The team does seem to have played its best basketball with Shaq on the court. They compiled a 27-9 record with him during the regular season (and if you need more stats to back that up, just ask Danny to defend The Trade). The guy hasn't forgotten what made him "the most dominant big man ever." He has kept himself in phenomenal shape the last few years so he could keep banging with the young guns. When he's on the court, he's effective but he just can't stay on the court.
So in the time that he's missed the Celtics have been up and down. At the beginning of the year, it almost didn't matter. They could throw Semih Erden out there and beat the best teams in the league. The middle of the year the struggled regardless of who was in the middle. (For those curious, they went 8-4 with Kendrick Perkins). Nenad Krstic played well right after the trade but has since regressed. Glen Davis was amazing during the first half of the year and was able to fill in admirably at times but has since fallen in love with his jumper a little too much for my taste and doesn't seem to be a great fit at the center position anyway.
So we turn our lonely eyes to Jermaine O'Neal, who has looked positively rejuvenated after his surgery. He will never again be the 20/10 guy that he was in Indiana, but we sometimes forget that he gave the Heat over 13 points and 7 rebounds a game last year on a broken down wheel. And forget the stats for a minute and think about the defensive impact he made on game 1. Even if he just mans the paint and allows our defense to function, he'll be putting us in the position to win games. After all, that's what Perkins used to do and that usually worked out well.
Of course it remains to be seen how long Jermaine himself can stay on the court. He looks good now and has supposedly fixed the issue he's been dealing with, but sometimes these things have a tendency to have setbacks.
If Rondo is playing well, if Ray is taking enough shots, if Paul is locked in, if KG is snarling, then the Celtics can beat anyone, regardless of who's manning the post. Having Shaq certainly makes them a better team, and in the playoffs you need every advantage you can get. But I've said this all along, the Celtics will go as far as the Big 4 will get them. Will that be enough? We'll see.