EL SEGUNDO, Calif. - If the Celtics capture banner No. 17 tonight at Staples Center by winning Game 5 of the NBA Finals against the Lakers, they might have to do it without their starting center. Yesterday, Kendrick Perkins, who strained his left shoulder during the third quarter of Thursday's Game 4, said it was up in the air. whether he'd be able to play.
When asked if he could have played if the game were yesterday, Perkins replied, "I don't know, probably not. It's hard to say. Right now, it's really just 50-50."
Perkins said he had not gotten an MRI on the shoulder, which he dislocated twice in four months in 2006, leading to arthroscopic surgery.
"There is some pain in there. I'm not going to lie," said Perkins, who is averaging 6.8 points and 6.2 rebounds per game in the playoffs. "But it's the Finals. I feel like I have to suck it up, but I'm going to listen to the doctors, the coaches and my trainer, Ed [Lacerte], and see where we go."
During the portion of practice open to the media, Perkins shot around with just one hand, not raising his left arm.
So, maybe it was a bit of gamesmanship when coach Doc Rivers said that Perkins planned to play. When asked if both point guard Rajon Rondo, who pronounced himself 100 percent yesterday despite the bone bruise on his left ankle, and Perkins would start tonight, Rivers said, "Yeah." Twice.
But Perkins remained noncommittal.
"Hopefully, right now, it's so-so," said the center. "It's a sprained shoulder and it's not like it's a Game 7, so there are still three more games left, and I just want to make sure I make the right decision.
"We're just taking it day by day, and I'm going to go on how I feel [today], and I'm going to just leave it at that. We'll reevaluate it before the game and go from there."
Ring of truth
Reserves Sam Cassell, who won back-to-back titles with the Houston Rockets in 1994 and '95, and James Posey, who won a ring with the Miami Heat in 2006, are the only Celtics who have ever won a close-out game in the Finals.
What advice did Cassell have for his teammates?
"Play the game, play the game," said Cassell. "We got to just compete the first quarter. We can't get down 20 points in the first quarter. I don't want to go through that again like in Game 4. Compete, understand what is at the end of the tunnel. I think that will be enough to drive us through."
Cassell said the Celtics need to match the desperation the Lakers will play with and act as if they don't have a 3-1 lead.
Rondo said that shouldn't be a problem.
"We're desperate, too," he said. "Only two guys have won a championship on this team and the Big Three haven't won at all, so I'm sure they're very desperate, and the young guys, like myself, we're desperate, so both teams we'll be desperate in Game 5."
Despite the outstanding job Paul Pierce did in the second half of Game 4 guarding Kobe Bryant, Rivers said he still plans to rotate defenders on the league MVP in Game 5. Ray Allen, Posey, and Pierce have all taken turns shadowing Bryant.
"One guy will not guard Kobe Bryant," said Rivers. "It's just too hard. It's too much work, and it takes all the energy out of that one guy. We basically have used three guys. We're capable of using four with Tony Allen, and it'll probably stay the same."
The significance of Rivers, whose father, Grady, died in November, possibly leading the Celtics to the title on Father's Day has been well documented, but on the other side of the circle of life is Pierce, who became a first-time father in April, when his fiancée gave birth to Prianna Lee Pierce.
Pierce said winning his first NBA title in his hometown on Father's Day would be special.
"That would be the only Father's Day [present] I probably would ever want," Pierce said. "It's my first one . . . if I can get a championship on Father's Day, that'll be the best Father's Day anybody could ever ask for, and it'll definitely be one I'll always remember, so that's the goal right now."
One of the debates among the media is who would be the Finals MVP if the Celtics wrap up the series in five games. Ray Allen, who is averaging 20 points and six rebounds per game and shooting 52.1 percent from the field in the Finals, and Pierce, who is averaging 19 points, 4.5 rebounds, and 5 assists, appear to be the top candidates, based on an informal poll . . . Rondo, who slipped several times in Game 4, said his faulty footing had nothing to do with his injured ankle and was the result of a new pair of sneakers and a moist Staples Center court.