Kendrick Perkins received a standing ovation when he fouled out with 2 minutes 47 seconds remaining in the fourth quarter. The well-deserved applause filled the TD Banknorth Garden as Perkins exited with 12 points and 19 rebounds. He stole the show from Allen Iverson, as far as the crowd of 14,027 was concerned.
(Note to Mark Blount: When knowledgeable Boston fans applaud a job well done, it sounds like the reception Perkins heard when he strode to the sideline for the last time.) Boston could not have defeated Atlantic Division-leading Philadelphia, 110-103, without the tone set by Perkins. He supplied energy, a physical presence, and relentlessness akin to what Iverson gives the Sixers on a regular basis.
Most of all, Perkins provided hope for the future, showing that the Celtics may indeed have something special some day with all the young players on the roster. It was only one night, but it was enough of a glimpse to placate doubters of executive director of basketball operations Danny Ainge and sustain increasingly restless fans through what will be a very difficult December. Perkins recorded the second-best rebounding performance by a Celtic in the last five years behind a 21-rebound effort by Mark Blount on March 1, 2004, against Orlando. Like giddy schoolboys, owners Wyc Grousbeck and Steve Pagliuca waited in the locker room to present Perkins with the game ball.
It may be a while before Perkins again records career highs in points, total rebounds, offensive rebounds (8), assists (4) and minutes (27:43). Then again, his performance against the Sixers could be a watershed game that brings his play to the next level. That is what makes youth so enticing and so frustrating at the same time. So, while we can, let's celebrate the effort of Perkins in his third start this season and a hard-fought Celtics (6-8) victory.
''Did I surprise myself?" said Perkins, more shocked by the question than anything else. ''No, I knew I could do it. I just had to get confident out there, just have fun and relax. I was playing a little tight [in two previous starts] and this game coach [Doc Rivers] was just telling me to relax on the offensive end and I'd be all right. Once I hit my first shot, I was cool. I was thinking that [I could have done this earlier in the year], but I was also thinking I've got to carry this on to other games. I've got to get this night in and night out."
When Perkins hit a lefthanded hook shot late in the second quarter, he knew ''things were kind of rolling." He never made a shot like that back at Ozen High in Beaumont, Texas, his last reference point for a spectacular all-around game. Following the lead of Perkins, Boston outrebounded Philadelphia, 59-40. The Celtics also held the league's highest-scoring team to 41 percent from the floor as Iverson (11 for 27) struggled in the face of Delonte West and Orien Greene, and Chris Webber (11 for 26) trudged along against Raef Lafrentz and Al Jefferson.
''There were some games I had like 35 rebounds, so it did go back to some of those high school games," Perkins said. ''But you know I've just got to keep playing."
Not only was Perkins all over the glass giving the Celtics second chances and keeping the same opportunities to a minimum for the Sixers, but he made smart passes inside for easy baskets. The last of Perkins's four assists came when he found Paul Pierce (32 points, 11 rebounds) underneath the basket for an easy layup. The basket helped sustain an 11-3 run that broke an 87-87 tie and pushed Boston solidly ahead for good. Seconds after Ricky Davis capped the run with two free throws with 2:55 left, Perkins picked up his sixth personal.
It was no coincidence that the Celtics faltered briefly down the stretch without Perkins when a 3-pointer by Webber cut the deficit to 100-96 with 43.1 seconds remaining. There were more than a few sighs of relief when Pierce made two free throws to put Boston ahead, 102-96. The rest of the Celtics also made their free throws (8 for 8) in the final minute to seal the victory.
Boston held a 51-50 halftime advantage after leading by as many as 7 points in the first quarter. But Davis, who scored 17 of 26 points in the second half, was just getting going. The Celtics hope the same can be said of Perkins.
''It was real tough [the first couple years], not playing as much, but I think it was for the best," Perkins said. ''I'm happy the Celtics had patience in me to wait for me to develop. They put me out there at the right time, so all I can do is be thankful. Some night I may play a lot. Some nights I may still not play a lot. That's how a team is. Every night you've got to come focused. Doc basically told me to just keep doing what you do night in and night out. I'm going to try."
It was refreshing to hear Perkins handle questions with the kind of honesty that only comes when NBA success is brand new. But given the Celtics' and Perkins' relative youth, wins like the one last night will not get too old too fast.