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There was strength in Powe’s numbers

By Frank Dell’Apa
Globe Staff / March 24, 2011

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Doc Rivers has been impressed with Leon Powe since coaching him with the Celtics through the 2008-09 season. And Powe’s performance in Memphis’s 90-87 win over the Celtics last night at TD Garden only reinforced the opinion of Rivers, who called him “the baddest man on the planet.’’

There probably is not a much better, or heartfelt, description of Powe’s 17-minute stint for Memphis in the contest.

And Powe’s 13-point contribution to the Grizzlies’ offense only reinforced Rivers’s sentiments, something Memphis coach Lionel Hollins has also come to appreciate since Powe joined the team March 5.

“Leon’s perseverance is his strength, he’s got strong faith in himself,’’ Hollins said. “He just keeps battling, just keeps coming back. You love it when a guy won’t quit. I’m proud of him that he has kept going and made it back.’’

It has been a difficult comeback for Powe, who was released by the Celtics after undergoing knee surgery late in the ’08-09 season.

“It takes a while,’’ he said. “I’ve been almost two years out. I’m going to do what I can right now. I’m going to continue to get better, that’s all.

“I can dunk, and stuff, but I ain’t going to dunk yet. I feel good. I’ve been working extremely hard with my leg. I’m feeling pretty confident in this leg.’’

Powe started the decisive rally in the final quarter as the Grizzlies went on an 8-0 run over 2:50 to gain a 7-point advantage. He gave the Grizzlies a lead they would not relinquish, going to the post to produce a 78-77 advantage with 7:22 remaining. Then Powe went at Glen Davis, drawing a foul but failing to complete a 3-point play for an 80-77 edge with 5:52 left.

Powe now has 47 points in 63 minutes of playing time in six games since joining Memphis as a free agent.

He struggled to return with Cleveland last season, then played in only 14 games with the Cavaliers this season. Memphis, though, seems a great fit.

“This team allows me to do what I do best,’’ he said. “They allow me to post up and just be strong down there with the ball and give me opportunities when I get in the game.

“I just try to be strong down there, just be a presence. And get back to where I know what to do. When I was in Boston, that’s what they did. And that’s what this team likes to do best.

“I appreciate Cleveland, they gave me an opportunity, they let me out of my contract. [Memphis] is like a post-up team, and they like to play defense. It’s a young team, too.’’

Powe is feeling more comfortable in the Memphis system. But his heart is still in Boston. “It was like a homecoming,’’ he said. “And that’s the best feeling ever, to come back home and win.

“They love me over here and I love them. And that’s what made it so memorable for me to come back here — just to see the fans, the kids, everybody coming up to me, man, just showing me some love. And I show them love back, and that’s what it’s all about. I won a championship here with these guys and it was a fun situation being here, that’s all.’’

But this was more than a lovefest for Powe and another ex-Celtic, Tony Allen. Their advice and tactical knowledge also made a difference.

“The No. 1 thing is toughness,’’ Hollins said of Powe and Allen. “They’re both really tough guys, they’re physical guys, they’re veteran guys, they’ve been to the mountaintop and they’ve won.

“Our bench actually won the game. I thought being able to play Leon and Darrell [Arthur] together gave us a big moment. [The Celtics] thought they could rest their guys with our starters out, but we built a lead.’’

Said Powe, “We just told everyone you can’t be passive with [the Celtics]. This team is aggressive, they come at you hard, they foul you sometimes, you don’t get the call. You’ve got to go right back at them, you’ve got to be aggressive.

“It’s fun, especially when you can get a win. When you can come on the road and beat a great team like that by playing defense, it’s huge.’’

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

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