Celtics cruise as they enjoy center’s return
The Five Shamrocks got their bass player back last night, and although he was a little off key, his mere presence invigorated a Celtics team that quickly is beginning to resemble a championship contender.
Kendrick Perkins returned from a 223-day absence after recovering from right knee surgery, scoring 7 points with 6 rebounds in 17 minutes, and the Celtics used the final three quarters as a glorified practice in disposing of the Cleveland Cavaliers, 112-95, in front of 18,624 at TD Garden.
Perkins made his first appearance since June 15 in Game 6 of the NBA Finals, entering at 8:02 of the first quarter to a standing ovation.
Paul Pierce led the Celtics with 24 points in 24 minutes and coach Doc Rivers was able to limit the minutes of the Big Three, a nice development heading into a four-game trip out West.
“It felt good,’’ Perkins said to a horde of reporters. “I didn’t get any sleep last night, I was so excited. My neck hurts from not sleeping.’’
Perkins grew more comfortable as the game progressed, briefly barking at official Mike Callahan after he thought J.J. Hickson went over his back for a rebound. He was satisfied just rebounding and scoring on putbacks, and the Celtics were satisfied just seeing him back.
He definitely showed some rust, looking slow in some sequences and resembling Shaquille O’Neal at the free throw line, missing his first three before making one in the fourth quarter.
By then the Celtics led, 94-71, and they were just trying to finish the game healthy. Perkins played only a bit more than the 16 minutes Rivers had projected for him, and he left at 9:48 of the fourth to another standing ovation.
The Cavaliers, meanwhile, were handed their 18th consecutive loss, fielding a B team with Celtics adversaries LeBron James (Heat), Anderson Varejao (injured), and Mo Williams (injured) gone, replaced by a group of journeymen, second-round draft picks, and undrafted free agents.
They sent out players such as Christian Eyenga, who spent 33 games on the inactive list and was playing in his ninth NBA game, and Samardo Samuels, an undrafted free agent from Louisville who also spent time in the NBDL.
After losing by 2 points Monday night in New Jersey, the Cavaliers played hard but had nowhere near enough talent. At this point, coach Byron Scott can’t track progress with victories. He has to find other positives.
“I thought we put up a good effort,’’ Scott said. “I thought the second quarter was obviously the quarter they came out and got pretty much everything they wanted. Our young guys played pretty well, we kept fighting and kept playing. I care about our guys getting better, and that’s what we’re trying to do.’’
It appeared the Cavaliers gave all they had in a spirited first quarter and Rivers used the second quarter as more of a formal practice. He cleared the bench, and the reserves, including Perkins, combined for 47 points on the night, including 11 each from Nate Robinson and Glen Davis.
Perkins made his second appearance with 4:11 left before halftime and rebounded in addition to distributing. He grabbed four boards in 10 first-half minutes and added three assists. In one sequence, he muscled a rebound from Samuels, saw Ray Allen open out of the corner of his eye, and fired a pass to Allen, who hit a 3-pointer for a 56-36 lead with 3:27 left in the half.
Pierce then returned and scored 7 points in a 69-second stretch to extend the lead to 63-41. In just more than 17 minutes, Pierce scored 24 points on 8-for-12 shooting with four rebounds and just one turnover. The lead was 67-45 at halftime as the Celtics avoided playing down to their competition, learning from Saturday night’s painful loss at Washington.
Pierce didn’t score in the second half, playing only 6 minutes and 30 seconds. He tweaked his left ankle and headed to the locker room for treatment with five minutes left in the game.
“I just turned it a little bit,’’ he said. “I’ll be fine.’’
Pierce had to be convinced to talk to reporters after the game because he felt the night belonged to Perkins, who found out after a practice regimen in front of team doctor Brian McKeon following Monday’s workout that he was cleared to play.
Antawn Jamison welcomed him back to the NBA by draining a 19-foot jumper in Perkins’s face. Perkins got a little payback with a layup at 7:14 and was fouled by Eyenga, his first points of the season. Some things never change: Perkins missed the free throw.
But he made it through healthy and was relieved afterward. After several months of doubt as to whether he would return and whether he’d be his old self, the Celtics can move forward now that the band’s back together.
“I thought he was terrific,’’ Rivers said. “I thought as the game went on his timing got better. There’s people in the crowd that work hard every day, blue collar, and Perk identifies with those people. If you’re a guy that works 9 to 5, you’ve got to love Perk because that’s who he is.’’