WASHINGTON - On one play last night, Celtics center Jermaine O’Neal tried to dunk lefthanded on the Wizards’ JaVale McGee after a behind-the-back dish from Rajon Rondo. Perhaps it was the criticism he received after scoring just 8 points in the first three games, but O’Neal has been an aggressive and productive scorer the past two games.
Even though he was in early foul trouble in the Celtics’ 94-86 win over the Wizards, O’Neal had 8 points, showing some nifty offensive moves, and three rebounds.
“I’m trying to rewind that clock back,’’ O’Neal joked after the game. “I’m feeling really comfortable with my placement with the team, even the low-post moves just feel normal. The thing that people don’t realize is I basically missed all of last year.’’
Before the game, O’Neal said the work he did over the summer in Las Vegas during the lockout and his continued sound health have been the reasons for his increased energy.
He also made it clear that he has heard the critics.
“A lot of it is I haven’t been playing,’’ he said when asked about his early struggles. “There’s a reason I have been picked out on some fouls that may or may not have been fouls. It’s easy for people to sit behind a table or sit behind the camera or sit behind the microphone or sit behind the TV at home and judge what it is they think you should or shouldn’t be doing.’’
O’Neal added, “Nobody is going to take the easy way out. If I wanted to take the easy way out, I would have retired. I wouldn’t have went to camps [during the lockout] like I was in my third year. I went to training camps 16 years into the league. Who’s doing that? You find someone 16 years that’s going to training camps doing two-a-days.
“I don’t worry about what people say because at the end of the day, the same people criticizing you are going to cheer for you when things start going well.’’
O’Neal left in the fourth quarter with a tight left hamstring.
Paul Pierce played a solid 23 minutes in his season debut Friday night against Detroit, scoring 12 points with 5 assists and 4 rebounds. Coach Doc Rivers said Pierce emerged OK physically, merely sore from his first NBA game in seven months, and that Pierce’s sore right heel was sound.
Rivers said he would determine how many minutes to play Pierce by the captain’s fatigue level. He played 28 minutes last night, scoring 9 points on 2-for-8 shooting with six rebounds. “I’m just going to look to his lungs,’’ Rivers said. “The plan was to put him on the Kevin Garnett plan of five minutes, and then after five minutes he wanted to stay in. So we left him in there, and a minute later he was signaling [to come] out.
“He made the 6-6-6 plan. We’re working for the Herman Cain plan.’’
Pierce said he is not going to rush himself.
“I’ll use the [season’s first] eight games like the preseason,’’ he said. “The foot is really holding up pretty good. It’s not totally 100 percent but it is bearable. I’m just right now trying to get my legs under me in game shape. But that’s going to come.’’
Wilcox sits out
Rivers said forward Chris Wilcox, who did not make the trip to Washington, may return tonight. Wilcox has missed the past three games with a sore left shoulder.Gary Washburn can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.