Jermaine O'Neal doesn't read the paper or listen to sports radio, so he claimed to be unaware of his status as the Celtics whipping boy as the team limped to an 0-3 start.

But the 16-year veteran has been around long enough to understand that negativity is a staple of the NBA. He knew that pundits would be taking shots at him after he totaled more fouls (13) than points (eight) in the first three games.

O'Neal answered his critics last night, leading the Celtics with 19 points and seven rebounds in a 96-85 win over the Pistons at the Garden. After the resurgent performance, O'Neal provided a passionate response to his doubters.

"It's easy for people to sit behind the table or sit behind the camera or sit behind the microphone or sit behind the TV at home and judge what it is that they think you should or shouldn't be doing," O'Neal said. "It's easy. It's hard to respond though. My thing is I want to play for the real fans that support this team. I want to play for the guys that's in this locker room and this organization. They know what we put into this."

For O'Neal, that meant treating this offseason as if he was a newcomer fighting for a roster spot. The 33-year-old, who considered retirement after last season, spent the summer working to return to form after missing 58 games last year with a recurring left knee injury.