Bigs Start Strong, But Leave Hurting

BOSTON - By the time the media got there Wednesday night, the only evidence of Al Jefferson in the Celtics' locker room was an untied ankle brace sitting in a heap at the foot of his stall and his #7 jersey on a hanger.

Kendrick Perkins did talk to the press after the game, but he was certainly perturbed with himself as he got dressed, saying that his conditioning isn't where it needs to be after recounting to reporters a few of his poor plays that cost the Celtics a few points.

Mysterious forces seem to conspire against Perkins and Jefferson. Or at least against the prospect of them playing well together for an entire game. Over the past two seasons, if one guy isn't hurt, then it's usually the other one ailing. And if one guy is playing well, the other is probably struggling, or in foul trouble. Thanks to an array of injuries over the last two years, it's rarely been possible for the guys to even be on the floor together, let alone play well together.

So it seemed to good to be true Wednesday night when both came out like gangbusters in the first quarter, and looking back after the Celtics 82-76 loss to the Atlanta Hawks, it probably was, despite an impressive first half from both guys.

"I felt a whole lot better out there today to start. It's been a while since I had a game with over 10 rebounds. If we want to play to win, I've got to step my game up and I've got to bring it night in and night out," said Perkins, who finished with a season-high 15 points and 12 rebounds, as well as two blocks. "In the first half I played my game, but I'm not in this for myself."

He may not be overly concerned with his statistics, but he can't be entirely happy with them recently, either. Perkins' only other double-digit rebounds game this season came on November 11 in a 94-93 loss to the Cavaliers. A six-rebound game on January 5 vs. Memphis was his best in the last two months. Then again, he's been battling plantar fasciitis in his left foot for most of the year.

Perkins is certainly tough, and he didn't really acknowledge that his foot may have been hurting him in the third quarter as Coach Doc Rivers suggested in his postgame press conference. But when it was suggested to him that he played well early but kind of ran out of gas, Perkins responded, "I really ran out of gas."

"I got fatigued. I won't lie, I got tired. That was my fault. But that's something I've been working on, getting extra conditioning," Perkins said. "That's still not an excuse, but that's what happened."

As for his pal Jefferson, Big Al suffered a bruised right knee at the end of the half, then returned to play the entire third quarter only to endure a mild sprain of his right ankle just 1:28 into the fourth. Before leaving the game, Jefferson had racked up 11 points, 10 rebounds and four blocks.

"I didn't think it was bad when he first went down, and then I saw him trying to run and I knew it was bad," Rivers said. "Perk, in the middle of the third, told us his foot was hurting."

Before things went south on them, the Boston bigmen had combined for 16 points and 12 rebounds in the first 12 minutes of the game, staking the Celtics to a comfortable 28-10 at the end of one. Each had six rebounds; Perkins scored nine points and had a pair of assists while Jefferson had five points.

They'd continue what they started in the second quarter by combining for seven points and six rebounds. Jefferson did take a hard fall to the floor in the closing seconds of the half, which resulted in a bruised right knee, but he'd return to the lineup and play the entire third quarter. But the Celtics lead had dropped from 15 down to six points in the third quarter, and Marvin Williams tied up the game at 62-62 on a jumper with 8:51 to play, and it was all Hawks from that point on.

Injury Updates: Pierce, Scalabrine and Szczerbiak

According to Celtics spokesman Jeff Twiss, Pierce is out of his boot and the word from trainer Ed Lacerte via Twiss is that Pierce is "progressing nicely." While there's still no timetable on his return, Rivers characterized the removal of the boot as progress.

"It's good that he's walking, he's feeling better. He's walking better. That's nice," said Rivers. "That boot gives me nightmares."

As for Wally Szczerbiak, any dreams Rivers may have had of dressing him for the Hawks game were ruined by two bags of ice on Szczerbiak's ankles. He didn't participate in Wednesday morning's shootaround, and Rivers suggested that it might be a setback.

Brian Scalabrine did dress for Wednesday's game, but told reporters before hand that he would likely ride the pine. If he had to enter the game due to foul trouble, he'd ride the exercise bike first to loosen up his knee.

"Scal is in uniform, but if I don't have to use him I won't use him," said Rivers, who never did call on Scalabrine. "The fear is if you use him tonight you might not [be able to use him] on the road."

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