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Celtics notebook

Attitude hardly cavalier

No chances taken against lesser foe

Returning Celtics center Kendrick Perkins tangles — or is it tangos? — for position against the Cavaliers in the first half. Returning Celtics center Kendrick Perkins tangles — or is it tangos? — for position against the Cavaliers in the first half. (Barry Chin/Globe Staff)
By Gary Washburn
Globe Staff / January 26, 2011

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The Celtics fully realize they would have the NBA’s best record if they didn’t look past lesser teams. Of their 10 losses, four are to Cleveland, Toronto, Detroit, and Washington. And in three of those games, the Celtics blew fourth-quarter leads.

So coach Doc Rivers was banking last night that lessons were learned following Saturday night’s 85-83 loss to the Wizards, a game the Celtics led by 16 in the first half and had every chance to win before John Wall banked in a 3-pointer to seal a Washington victory.

The Celtics took no chances with the Cavaliers, who arrived in Boston losers of 17 straight games, including a 2-point defeat to the Nets Monday night. The Celtics briefly fell behind, 25-24, but Paul Pierce scored their final 13 points of the first quarter and the Celtics never trailed again.

“You always worry about that stuff,’’ Rivers said. “At the end of the day, I just really worry about us trying to understand, we gotta just keep working and getting better and don’t get into bad habits. That’s all we talked about before the game. I didn’t mention Washington once. We talked about we gotta keep getting better.’’

Pierce has taken turns being aggressive and passive on offense. Last night it was full speed ahead, and his 24-point first half helped give his team a comfortable lead and turned the second half into a formality.

“It’s something I’ve been trying to do the past two or three weeks, just try to come out real aggressive at the jump,’’ he said. “I’m just trying to get us off to good starts.’’

Test was passed Kendrick Perkins unexpectedly returned to the lineup after tearing the anterior cruciate ligament in his right knee during Game 6 of the NBA Finals. Perkins had projected himself to return Feb. 4 against the Mavericks, but he participated in full practices for the past week and went through one final test with team physician Brian McKeon.

McKeon put Perkins through a series of conditioning drills following Monday’s practice at the team’s Waltham facility. Perkins went baseline to baseline with a large rubber band tied around each knee. After that, McKeon officially cleared Perkins to play and informed Rivers.

Perkins checked into the game with 8:02 left in the first quarter to a standing ovation from the TD Garden crowd. He was assigned to guard Antawn Jamison, who began by hitting a jumper in Perkins’s face. On the next time down the court, Perkins scored on a layup and was fouled by Christian Eyenga, his first points in seven months.

“I don’t mind changing my mind,’’ Rivers said. “He looks pretty good. That was part of the reason they thought he should give it a go, and ease him in with minutes. He’s on a minute restriction.’’

Rivers said he would keep Perkins on a 16-minute limit, but Perkins played 17 last night. He had 7 points, 6 rebounds, and 3 assists.

Perkins had not played since the Lakers’ Andrew Bynum came crashing down on him as both went for a rebound and Perkins’s right knee buckled.

Now, the Celtics get another solid defender for their four-game West Coast trip — which includes a return to Staples Center to play the Lakers Sunday.

“It’s great,’’ Rivers said. “I don’t know how much he’ll help us, just his presence on the floor. We’re activating him more because they say he’s ready to play. The more games he plays, the better he’ll be by the time it hits the playoffs. That’s good for us.’’

Consolation call The Cavaliers lost their 18th straight game, and coach Byron Scott said Rivers was one of the many coaches who have contacted him for encouragement. The Celtics lost 18 straight under Rivers during the 2006-07 season.

“I’m an expert at it,’’ said Rivers. “I know exactly what people say. People called me.

“I told him, ‘I know you don’t want these calls because I got them. And I was starting to get [upset] at people calling me. I was like, leave me alone, I just want to do my job.’

“It’s tough but he’s like I was, just focused on the next game and improving the guys.’’

Said Scott, “This is nothing new to me. I went through this before [as coach of New Orleans and New Jersey]. He didn’t give me no advice. He just told me to hang in there.’’

Daniels absent Marquis Daniels was not available because of a family matter. He is expected to join the team in Portland for the start of a four-game Western swing tomorrow . . . Shaquille O’Neal was in attendance, sitting at the end of the bench, waving to fans screaming his name in the fourth quarter . . . Anthony Parker returned for Cleveland after missing nine of the past 10 games with back problems. He scored 3 points in 14 minutes . . . Scott said former Celtic Leon Powe, recovering from yet another knee surgery, should be back this season.

Gary Washburn can be reached at gwashburn@globe.com.

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