Kendrick Perkins’ offensive game is a work in progress. His defensive game remains a warrior’s work of art.
The Celtics center has made his bones in the NBA as a physical and imposing presence in the paint. Over the past six years, his ability and eagerness to man up against the biggest men in the league has allowed him to go from overweight teenager to starting center on the defending champions.
Forward Al Jefferson enjoyed a reputation as an emerging star before being traded to the Timberwolves last summer, and Perkins’ defense helped allow Jefferson to shine offensively. The pride Perkins took on the defensive end also endeared him to Kevin Garnett after they clashed early in their careers.
Despite undergoing off-season shoulder surgery that cost him nearly the entire summer, Perkins has been as effective and passionate on defense as ever. He has slowly added a nifty offensive move or two as well.
“I didn’t get to really have the off-season the way I wanted,” he said. “With the month of October, I had to hurry up and jam it in all in one. I was trying to work on my game and get better. I am still trying to improve.”
Although he fumbled away a series of Rajon Rondo feeds in an eight-point effort during Monday’s 107-88 victory over the Magic, Perkins was coming off a pair of games in which his offense went well beyond the usual array of spoon-fed dunks. His deft double post move on Philly shot-blocker Samuel Dalembert was part of a 4-for-4 first quarter that helped set the stage for a 102-78 blowout of the Sixers on Nov. 28. The next night, Perkins took a season-high 15 shots on the way to scoring 15 points with 12 boards in an 89-84 victory at Charlotte.
“You’ve got to pick and choose,” Perkins said of his offense. “I go in and learn my post game, and just try to come out and get better every day. Then when I get the ball, I make the best of it.”
Doc Rivers has been critical of Perkins when he has looked for his scoring too much, but the center said he is slowly making the coach a believer in his low-post potential.
“Actually, he gives me a little bit of leeway now,” Perkins said. “The last few games he’s been giving me a lot of leeway. He’s also been making it a deal to throw it down there, so more than anything it’s earning that respect.”
One place he has a reservoir of good will is on the defensive end. He added to that on Monday when Orlando MVP candidate Dwight Howard had just 14 points, only seven coming when Perkins (13 rebounds, 10 defensive boards) was in the game.
“I was just trying to make it hard on him and let the rest take care of itself,” Perkins said. “For certain, it’s all heart when you go against a guy like that. You don’t really want to let him do too well. Even though he had a double-double [15 rebounds], you want to contain him.”
Said Garnett: “He’s one of these people we ask night in, night out to go out and have the difficult task of guarding the best post guys.”
Talk to me in the spring
During their recent winning streak, the Celtics have beaten the teams with two of the top four records in the Eastern Conference in the Pistons and Magic, as well as three Atlantic Division foes in the Raptors, Knicks, and Sixers.
Garnett said he was a little more focused for supposed division challenger Philly than he was for a typical game, but Ray Allen said few, if any, of the 17 victories in the first 19 games carried special significance.
“This is not really a turning point at this point of the season,” he said. “Home-court advantage is important. But if you look at last year, we weren’t just good against the teams that were just as good, or better, than us. We were good against everybody. Our record against sub-.500 teams was the best, and those are the teams we are playing the majority of the time.
“Our focus is always trying to keep the same killer mentality. In our minds, it is just another game. There are conference implications, but they never really matter until you get down to March and April. It would matter a whole lot more then.”
Scott Souza covers the Celtics for OT and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org