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Hitting a boiling point

By Gary Washburn
April 24, 2010

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MIAMI — As he returned to the bench following each turnover or missed layup, Kendrick Perkins’s customary scowl turned more menacing. His teammates noticed the frustration, noticed he was allowing his offensive struggles to affect his defensive approach, and they offered encouragement.

When Perkins is sporting an angry scowl, it’s usually not the time to approach him. But Perkins, realizing more mental breakdowns could mean ending Game 3 of the Eastern Conference quarterfinals on the bench, accepted the pats on the back and continued to alter the game defensively.

His line is downright ugly: 0 points, 12 rebounds, 5 turnovers, 4 fouls, and 2 blocked shots, and for those into this stat, he was minus-10. Yet, coach Doc Rivers kept Perkins in the game down the stretch, something he hasn’t always done.

Paul Pierce sealed the Celtics’ 100-98 victory with a buzzer-beating 21-footer over Dorell Wright, but the other starters also helped deliver critical plays down the stretch. The Celtics’ starting five combined for 90 points and 34 rebounds as a difficult road game encouraged Rivers to go with his primary contributors.

Rivers said role players respond better when they play at home, and the Heat bench was stellar last night, scoring 39 points on 14-for-23 shooting, and Rivers countered with the rotation that has produced the most during the regular season.

Health is not an issue with the Celtics playing with supreme confidence.

“I got on Perk a little bit because I just told him to remember who he is,’’ Rivers said. “You’re playing great defense and you’re rebounding. So what, you’re missing layups. Just don’t let that take you out of your job. You could see his shoulders slumped. Everybody was like, ‘C’mon man,’ because he’s so important for us when he plays well. And it’s tough to play when your spirit is down. I was glad to see him on the floor and he made some great defensive plays for us.’’

Perkins is relevant to the Celtics’ success when he is playing well. He is a tough defender, solid rebounder, and isn’t afraid to get physical. Last night, Perkins complained too much to the officials — something that resulted in 15 technical fouls for him this season — and he was timid around the basket. He carried the ball too low and allowed Jermaine O’Neal and Dwyane Wade to swipe it for steals.

And his footwork in the post is something he needs to improve. But the Celtics will take him as is because he changes games. A day after saying he was working with his high school coach to improve his shooting touch, O’Neal finished 1 for 7 in just 19 minutes and is 5 for 31 in the series, and Perkins has something to with that.

O’Neal’s lack of production forced Miami coach Erik Spoelstra to use Udonis Haslem at center in the fourth quarter, and the undersized workhorse did not attempt a shot in the paint.

It’s crucial for Perkins to realize he can impact a game when he’s not scoring. He is capable of more than 7.6 rebounds per game. He has pulled down 23 the past two games after getting just three in Game 1. Although Perkins is the Celtics starter who receives the least publicity, he potentially can have the most impact on a game. He brings toughness that any championship contender needs.

“Offensively, I was struggling tonight. You know, it happens,’’ he said. “When you don’t have the offense going, some kind of way you have to make a way to be effective in the game.’’

And Rivers has been working with Perkins to retain that strength, even when he struggles on offense. The Celtics still scored 100 points without even a free throw from Perkins, so scoring is not an issue.

What has been an issue is the team’s lack of rebounding and toughness in the paint. A team that was repeatedly pounded on the boards during the regular season has outrebounded Miami the past two games, thanks to its workmanlike center with the frightening scowl.

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