BOSTON — Rajon Rondo is out with a hamstring injury, Delonte West broke his wrist Wednesday night and fourth-string point guard Marquis Daniels nearly threw his back out when he committed an unforgivable no-no.
He tried to help Shaquille O’Neal — all 345 pounds or more of him — up from the floor.
“No one lifts Shaq,” Celtics coach Doc Rivers said, smirking. “I told them that.”
It was one of the only times that O’Neal needed help against New Jersey, scoring a season-high 25 points and even hitting four straight free throws as Boston came back to beat the Nets 89-83. O’Neal also matched his season high with 11 rebounds for his second straight double-double.
“I told him he looked like the 2000 Shaq. (Also) the 1999 Shaq, the 2001 and 2002 to 2003 to 2004 to 2005 to 2006,” Celtics forward Kevin Garnett said. “He definitely was the target tonight. We rode him.”
O’Neal scored Boston’s first six points and had eight in the first quarter as the Celtics found him underneath for easy lay-ins. He went 9 for 10 from the floor and 7 for 13 from the line — 5 for 8 in the fourth quarter alone as the Nets resorted to Hack-a-Shaq to get back into the game.
“They were very unselfish, I go to the hole and got a lot of easy baskets,” O’Neal said. “That’s kind of how I want to play at 38.”
Paul Pierce scored 18 points, and Ray Allen had 15 points and seven assists for the defending Eastern Conference champions, who have won consecutive games after losing two straight for the first time all season. But this one was thanks to O’Neal, who signed with the Celtics for the veteran’s minimum in search of his fifth NBA title.
“Shaq played great tonight,” Nets forward Kris Humphries said. “He made free throws. His teammates did a great job of finding him under the basket. A lot of his baskets were just getting it and putting it in. They got him going early and that was a key to the game.”
It was the most points O’Neal has scored since the end of the 2008-09 season, when he was with Phoenix. The crowd showed its gratitude, cheering his free throws in the fourth quarter and breaking into a “Shaq! Shaq!” chant.
“I know people appreciate my hard work,” he said. “This is a great team. Best team I’ve been on. We’ve got a lot, a lot of weapons. Anybody on this team can be the leading scorer. The shots are there, but they drop off. They could have easily have shot.”
O’Neal also gave the crowd a chuckle when Daniels tried pull him up from the floor. O’Neal kind of spun around without gaining any altitude; Daniels gave up and walked away, laughing.
“We worked on that. We were planning that,” Daniels said. “That was one of his dance moves.”
Daniels played a season-high 29 minutes because Rondo missed his third straight game with a strained hamstring and West broke his right wrist late in the first half when he crashed to the floor after a layup. West stayed there, grimacing in pain, until the medical staff came to help him. A few minutes later, he walked off, holding his right arm in his left, still in obvious pain.
Rivers said it was a compound fracture. “It’s going to be a long time. Let’s put it that way,” he said.
Devin Harris scored 20 points for the Nets, hitting back-to-back baskets in the final 2 minutes to help New Jersey cut the deficit to 82-78. But Nate Robinson hit a 3-pointer, then fed Garnett with a bounce pass for a layup that made it 87-78 with 39 seconds left.
Anthony Morrow scored 18 points, Brook Lopez had 16 and Humphries had 11 rebounds for the Nets, who lost three out of four to the Celtics last season but did win 104-96 in Boston on Feb. 27 for just their sixth victory of the season.
Again the Nets came to Boston looking to make it a half-dozen wins, this time more than three months earlier. They went in front in the second quarter and took a 10-point lead in the third, but the Celtics sped by them early in the fourth quarter — thanks to O’Neal.
The 38-year-old center sank a pair of free throws with 9:41 left to tie it, then finished an alley-oop from Allen to give the Celtics a 67-65 lead. He went back to the line with 7:06 to play and made both foul shots to give Boston a five-point lead; he was fouled again the next time down and missed both.
NOTES: New Jersey’s Terrence Williams missed his second consecutive game for repeated violations of team rules. Coach Avery Johnson said the team will make a decision by Friday on how to proceed. … It’s the most points O’Neal has scored since March 18, 2009.