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Celtics done without Perkins? Hardly

Posted by Gary Dzen, Boston.com Staff  April 7, 2011 11:17 AM

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It wasn't true. If you look at the numbers, the Celtics' defense never left. Perkins may be gone, but so were Jermaine O'Neal and Shaquille O'Neal, players the Celtics plan to lean on in the playoffs as much as Krstic. Jermaine O'Neal is back, and if he and Shaq can get right for the playoffs -- admittedly no sure thing -- they'll take Krstic out of a lot of the situations he was forced into shortly after the trade. That trio has 18 fouls between them to give. O'Neal (photo above) has shown a propensity to mix it up. You want a tough guy enforcer? Why not him? Are teams going to mess with the Celtics physically with Shaq and Glen Davis on the floor?

Using stats to measure Perkins's value doesn't tell the whole story, but they're a part of the conversation. A popular rebuttal to those who pray at the Altar Of Perk is that Perk isn't Bill Russell. Granted. But he's not Andrew Bynum --- or even Emeka Okafor, either. In 2007-08, the year the Celtics won the title, Perkins averaged 6.9 points and 6.1 rebounds in fewer than 25 minutes per game. His numbers were similar in 25 playoff games. Perk's numbers improved the following two regular seasons, to the point where he was averaging 10.1 points and 7.6 rebounds last season before he got hurt in the playoffs.

All of that would be fine if Perkins didn't regress offensively toward the end of last season, leading Doc Rivers to comment on Perk's regression several times as the playoffs approached. Rivers said the coaching staff was baffled that Perkins had reverted back to his old habit of bringing the ball down and gathering himself before going up with a shot. For big men, that's offensive no-no No. 1. For a player in his eighth NBA season, it was alarming.

For that reason, the Celtics have used a small lineup featuring Glen Davis at center to close out games for the last few years. But it wasn't just end-of-game situations where the Celtics went away from Perkins. The playoff minutes doled out to Rasheed Wallace -- who Celtics fans universally panned after last season -- show just how much the Celtics felt Perkins limited their offense. Wallace played 17 minutes per game in the postseason to Perkins's 25 and averaged more points. Perkins' absence was (again) a convenient excuse for Boston's loss to the Lakers in Game 7, but Garnett's health is conveniently ignored in that argument. If Garnett -- who wasn't himself the entire season -- doesn't get outrebounded 18-3 by Pau Gasol in that game, the Celtics win.

Perkins took his tough-guy persona and good reputation with him to Oklahoma City and promptly signed a contract extension. In 12 games with the Thunder Perkins is averaging 5.7 points and 8.2 rebounds. Again, Celtics fans don't miss the points and rebounds, but the extension doesn't help the perception that the C's let someone important get away. One of the problems with letting Perkins go is that Celtics players, coaches, and management were too enamored with Perk as a person to bash him on his way out of town. Perkins deserved to be treated well, but in that process the team lost the PR battle on the deal. Perk had flaws, but you wouldn't know it by talking to his teammates. The Red Sox bashed Nomar Garciaparra and Manny Ramirez on their way out of town -- players with much more talent who meant much more to their team than Perkins. It's a sad part of the business, but it's the way things are usually done.

The surest way for Ainge to be proven right is for the Celtics to win a title this season, while an early playoff exit will affirm everything Ainge's detractors believe. That shouldn't be so. The Celtics won the title in 2008 with Perkins averaging 25 minutes per in 25 playoff games, but Perk's minutes declined as the playoffs went on. In the Finals, against a Lakers team known for it's size, P.J. Brown played more minutes than Perkins in 4 of 6 games (Perkins missed Game 5 with a left shoulder strain).

Perk's importance is often talked about in the context of guarding Orlando's Dwight Howard, but the presence of Perkins wasn't the deciding factor in last season's playoff win over Orlando, either. Howard torched the Celtics for 30 points in Game 2, a game in which the Celtics won. Howard scored 32 points on Perkins in Orlando's win in Game 4, and the Celtics eventually won the series after Perkins was ejected in Game 5 and Howard scored 28 points in Game 6, won by the Celtics. It's nice having Perkins to guard Howard, but the Celtics can use 24 fouls from Krstic, Davis, and the two O'Neals on Howard should the teams match up again. As the Celtics have proven, letting Howard get his points doesn't translate into wins for Orlando.

All of this isn't to say that Perkins had no value to the Celtics. Believe Ainge when he says he agonized over the deal. But we underrate Krstic's value, and we haven't even scratched the surface of Green's. Celtics players were legitimately upset that one of their brothers had been traded. This team was close, and some of the their poor play in March must be attributed to conflicting emotions. Just like the rest of us, they got attached to Perk. Just like the rest of us, they've had to let him go.

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