The offense, as always, is a secondary requirement for Jermaine O'Neal.

His sole basket yesterday was a postscript, compared to his six rebounds and a block.

Overall, the Celtics center — who steadily worked up to speed after knee surgery — averaged 1.5 blocks and 3.5 rebounds in roughly 19 minutes per game in four against the Knicks.

"I'm enjoying this because it's been a rough year," O'Neal said after yesterday's series-clinching 101-89 win. "It's been a rough year for me personally, and it was good to get out there and feel comfortable late in games. It may not always show up on the stat sheet, but I feel that I can really help this team on the defensive end. I can make guys guess when they go to the cup. You almost see guys just looking. But it's a great group of guys — a brotherhood."

It can especially feel like a brotherhood when the player concerned is holding up his end of the equation.

"I feel good," he said. "My place with the team is to cover a lot of ground (on defense), and I'm starting to cover a lot of ground. It's contesting every shot at the basket. Making a guy miss is just as good as blocking a shot.