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Celtics skin Bobcats

BOSTON, January 15 – NBA veteran Shaquille O'Neal shouldered a bigger burden for the depleted Celtics Friday and delivered 23 points with five rebounds and five blocks in a 99-94 victory over Charlotte.O’Neal played a season-high 35 minutes for the Celtics, who ended the Bobcats’ four-game winning streak.

O’Neal was 10 for 12 from the field and made all three of his free throws to help Boston make up for the absence of injured Kevin Garnett for the ninth straight game and the limited contribution of Paul Pierce because of foul trouble.

"I knew that whatever happened I was going to be ready," said O’Neal. "I’ve been in foul trouble and haven’t really played a lot of minutes so there was really no excuse for me to be tired.

"I just came out and got a few more touches tonight and just did what I do."

The Celtics signed O’Neal, a three-time NBA Finals Most Valuable Player and four-time champion, in August to help fill in for injured center Kendrick Perkins.

But Celtics coach Doc Rivers said he hadn’t intended for the 18-year veteran to be pounding up and down the court for 35 minutes a game.

"Shaq wants to play, but he doesn’t want to play 35 minutes," Rivers said, but added there was "no choice" on Friday.

Boston were also without Jermaine O’Neal, who is nursing a sore left knee.

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"It’s not a big deal for one night," Rivers said of O’Neal’s extended playing time. "I don’t worry about it. And we don’t play again until Monday, so that’s nice. It came at the right moment."

Despite his difficulties, Pierce still scored 19 points. Rajon Rondo added 18 points and 13 assists and Ray Allen scored eight of his 19 points in the fourth quarter.

Gerald Wallace led Charlotte with 20 points.

Charlotte were in contention until the Celtics broke open the game with a scoring surge midway through the final period.

O’Neal converted a three-point play to open the fourth, but with the Celtics leading by just four points Charlotte got Pierce to commit his fifth foul with 8:42 remaining.

A basket from Wallace trimmed the margin to two, but Boston responded with a 10-2 scoring run that started with a hook shot from O’Neal.

Allen then hit back-to-back three-pointers to put Boston back in control.

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