THIS STORY HAS BEEN FORMATTED FOR EASY PRINTING

Bright spot found amid the gloom

Perkins rounding into form quickly

By Frank Dell’Apa
Globe Staff / February 5, 2011

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There was negative news regarding Celtics centers last night.

Jermaine O’Neal underwent left knee surgery and Shaquille O’Neal was unavailable for the Celtics’ 101-97 loss to Dallas because of an inflamed Achilles’.

But there was an encouraging performance by Kendrick Perkins, who is showing that he’s nearly back to full speed after having offseason knee surgery.

Perkins, who was injured in Game 6 of the NBA Finals last June, had been expected to ease his way back into action. But with Shaquille O’Neal out, Perkins made his first start of the season last night. And instead of fading, Perkins picked up his performance as the game went on, playing all but two seconds of the final quarter, logging 19:40 in the second half, and totaling 32:31 overall. Perkins also stayed out of foul trouble, committing zero fouls in the opening half and three in the second half.

Perkins finished with season highs of 13 points and 12 rebounds.

“I’m happy with where I’m at right now,’’ Perkins said. “I’m just trying to get out there and do my best for the team. Obviously I’d have liked to get the win more than anything.’’

As the season progresses, this defeat will fade. But if Perkins continues to progress, this game will mark the start of a major comeback.

“It really is a great story,’’ Celtics president Danny Ainge said. “If you watch him day in and day out — I don’t know how many days I saw him there at 9 o’clock, midnight, all by himself in the gym doing extra things. He’s motivated and determined. He’s been that way since the first day he showed up here in Boston, when we drafted him. I don’t think anyone is surprised that he put the work in. But a guy that big, to have the significant surgery he had, to be back doing what he did, and then to be playing with the confidence he’s had right out of the gate is impressive.’’

The next test for Perkins will be recovering by the time the Celtics host Orlando tomorrow, as Shaquille O’Neal is considered doubtful to play.

“I’m not worried about the total minutes, I’m more worried about [the minutes] in a row,’’ coach Doc Rivers said. “And, again, I thought we went over that in the fourth quarter. But he looked good, so I just kept him in.’’

The Celtics struggled on offense in the final quarter. But Perkins came through with three of the team’s final five field goals — another good sign for Perkins’s recovery, but not a positive indication of the Celtics’ finishing touch.

Perkins tied the game at 83 with a transition hoop 2:54 into the final quarter. That started a 7-0 run over a 70-second span, continuing with a Marquis Daniels 3-point play and concluding with a Perkins putback off a missed layup by Daniels.

Perkins tipped in a Rajon Rondo miss for a 92-89 edge with 4:37 remaining, the play following a Ray Allen block on Tyson Chandler, one of several defensive stops that seemed to wrap things up for the Celtics.

DeShawn Stevenson hit the side of the backboard out of a Dallas timeout, and Allen’s 3-pointer provided the Celtics with a 95-89 edge. After a basket by Jason Terry, Perkins restored the 6-point lead on a layup with 2:43 to go. But that would be the Celtics’ final points.

“I usually like [Glen Davis] on the floor, honestly, to end games because him and Kevin [Garnett] offensively — it gives us a better chance,’’ Rivers said. “But I thought Perk defensively was so good for us in that one stretch that we just stayed with him.

“You know they’re going to be a help defensive team. And, Perk, basically, he’s in the right spot and he finished layups and that’s what we needed him to do. I thought, defensively, he was terrific, rebounding the ball well. So, we got a lot out of Perk.’’

Frank Dell’Apa can be reached at f_dellapa@globe.com.

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