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Powe gives it a go

Leon Powe had been off the bench and out of his green warmup jacket for only a few seconds in his first NBA game when he was faced with an impossible task: guarding Dwight Howard.

Howard, Orlando’s 6-foot-11, 265-pound Incredible Hulk, rolled to the basket off of a pick. The rookie out of Cal had no choice but to body-up on Howard and hope his first moment as an NBA player would not end badly.

Howard never got the ball on the possession thanks to Powe’s defense. The Orlando star finished with 17 points and 15 rebounds, mostly on Kendrick Perkins’s watch.

“My big man over there [Perkins] did all the work,” said Powe. “But I picked him up on a couple rolls. I just tried not to let him get anything close. He’s a tough person to guard.”

If the early returns (10 points and 7 rebounds) are any indication, Powe may someday be the one opposing defenses have trouble with.

In his first offensive possession as a Celtic, Powe took it strong from the top of the key to the right side of the basket and drew a foul. Later in the quarter, he drew a foul on a back-to-the-basket move. Powe converted three-of-four free throws in the sequence.

“Powe was great,” said Celtics coach Doc Rivers. “That was the silver lining to the game. He’s physical. He can rebound. He’s an aggressive scorer.”

The highlight of the game for Powe came midway through the third quarter, when the rookie forward blocked a Carlos Arroyo layup attempt on one end and raced down to convert a layup while getting fouled at the other end. Powe pumped his fist as an appreciative crowd stood and cheered in his welcome-to-the-NBA moment.

“Coach always tells us to try to come out and bring energy,” said Powe in his typically understated manner. “I feel like I can rebound. I can score a little. That’s all I did.”

With Theo Ratliff out with a back injury and Al Jefferson out following an appendectomy, Rivers hinted Powe would see some action before the game.

“Leon is in uniform,” said Rivers. “I think there is a team need in situations where Leon could play for this team. He’s a guy that I can say almost with certainty will not be going down [to the developmental league].”

Powe wasn’t necessarily in the plans last night until Ryan Gomes and Brian Scalabrine both went out with two fouls in the first quarter. With 7:37 left in the first, Rivers called on Powe.

“I had to make sure he said ‘Leon’ and not Ryan (Gomes),” said Powe. “I was like Leon, OK. I’ll get in there.”

Injuries have given Powe an opportunity to play, but sitting on the bench the first six games of the season did not get him down. Last week, Powe had nothing but positive things to say about his role on the team despite the lack of playing time. Lots of players talk about doing it for the team, but you get the feeling that Powe really means it.

“If Coach calls on me, I’ll be ready,” said Powe, whose cuddly personality almost doesn’t match his enormous frame. “And if he calls on anybody else, I’ll be cheering for them.”

Despite the solid opening performance, Rivers acknowledged that Powe is still a work in progress.

“He’s really struggling running the stuff, but I’m not worried about it,” he said. “I think he’ll get it eventually.”

Powe admitted he was a little rusty.

“I can’t remember when the last time I ran up and down the court,” he said. “We run a lot of sets. Sometimes I’m supposed to be at the elbow and set a screen away and sometimes I just roll. I think I just need to get a steady feel for the game.”

Celtics captain Paul Pierce was unhappy with the game’s final outcome, but he was impressed with the rookie.

“We hope that he can build on that and show that type of energy he did tonight and continue to do that throughout the year,” he said.

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