Perkin' Up: C’s Crush Cavs as Perkins Makes Early Return To Lineup

Six months is a long time to wait to get back on the floor. Especially when the injury that knocked you out of Game 6 of the NBA Finals probably cost you, your team and your city Banner 18.

The wait ended for Kendrick Perkins on Tuesday night, about 10 days ahead of a scheduled return that was already itself ahead of schedule. Taking the floor to a hearty ovation about two hours after news broke that his comeback was happening early, Perkins contributed a solid night in front of the home crowd as the Celtics spanked the Cavaliers, 112-95.

Kendrick Perkins

Kendrick Perkins was right back where he belongs Tuesday night, patrolling the paint. The center returned to action over a week ahead of his recently projected return date of February 4 vs. Dallas.
Brian Babineau/NBAE/Getty

Perkins, who said he couldn’t sleep Monday night after he knew he’d play on Tuesday, scored seven points, grabbed six rebounds and dealt three assists in 17:10 of action.

“I felt good. The first quarter I got a little tired. After then I got my second winds and I was all right. It felt good to be on the floor,” Perkins said.

Asked if there was any hesitation with his surgically repaired knee, the center put to rest any doubts, saying that he was more concerned with his conditioning. “I was just wondering how long I could go. I didn’t know how my wind was going to be but other than that I was cool.”

Doc Rivers told reporters that Perkins would indeed take the floor in his pregame media session, and said Perkins would play about 12-16 minutes. Perkins finished having played 17:10, and actually felt like he had more to give.

“I felt real good but I thought I could do more,” said Perkins, who also joked that he tried to pick up a technical foul just to show everyone that he was truly back. “I'm mad I didn't block any shots.”

Perkins' return seemed to give his team a shot in the arm. Paul Pierce came out scorching, dropping 17 of his 24 in the first quarter, and the C’s were in total control by the half, leading 67-45.

“They were excited. Before the game, I kind of welcomed Perk back to the team. You could see it. They were clapping, they were really excited,” Rivers said of his center and how he inspired his teammates. “And they saw how hard he worked. He looks great.”

All summer, the word around the campfire in Waltham, Mass., was that Perkins was well ahead of schedule in his journey to return from ACL surgery. Team Physician Dr. Brian McKeon’s eyes always lit up when he talked about Perkins’ progress this fall, and even Perk himself admitted before Opening Night in October that he thought he could even take the floor that day if he had to.

Perkins went through a series of basketball and agility drills after Monday’s practice. In front of McKeon and trainer Ed Lacerte, Perkins ran sprints from sideline to sideline, then hopped the length of the baseline on one foot. After one more drill, McKeon asked Perk if he felt any pain.

When Perkins reported no pain, a giddy McKeon asked Perkins, “Do you want to play?”

Walking off the practice court Monday afternoon, the man known for his on-court scowl and barking at referees cracked a smile for the team doctor.

But he was all business when he finally stepped on the parquet Tuesday night, checking in at the 8:02 mark of the first quarter when starting center Semih Erden gathered two quick personal fouls. Perkins appeared to be containing a smile as he glanced up at the jumbotron after checking in, careful not to compromise what’s regarded as one of the fiercest game-faces in the NBA.

In the third quarter, after 17 minutes of play, Perkins wasn’t quite ready to check out.

“I just wanted to stay out there and keep working on my rhythm," Perkins said. "It was just good to be out there.”

With Shaquille O’Neal nursing a troublesome hip injury, and Jermaine O’Neal sitting out the next month to rest his ailing knee, Perkins’ return couldn’t have come at a better time. His teammates, especially his defensive tag team partner Kevin Garnett, were excited to have the big man back patrolling the paint. Still, his return will be measured; Rivers said Perkins will continue to play around 16-18 minutes on the team’s four-game West Coast road trip.

After waiting six months just to get back on the floor, Perk will live with the minutes restriction. And who knows how long that will last; he's been ahead of schedule with everything else on this comeback trail.