Sunday was the first day of full-contact practice for Celtics center Kendrick Perkins, who is putting the finishing touches on his comeback from an ACL injury suffered last June.
Normally, the first day of real contact is a scary milestone for an injured player, but in this case, it wasn't Perkins who had to worry. It was his teammates.
"Perk gave me a good screen," said Marquis Daniels, who hurt his back going up against Perkins and sat out the rest of Sunday's practice. "I'm OK, though. It was just a good, solid screen. I'm all right."
In case there was any doubt, Perk is back, and he's making his presence known from day one. Once he's on the floor for an actual game, there's no telling how beastly he'll be — but at the moment, he'll have to settle for laying out his own teammates.
"I did hit him on the flat-screen today," Perkins said of Daniels. "I said 'My bad,' but he said it was a good pick.
"It wasn't illegal," he added with a smile.
Now that Perkins is back to full-blown practice with his Celtic teammates, he can begin to think about a return to the TD Garden floor for a game. His initial estimate was three weeks of practice before he played in a game, and Perk isn't backing down from that goal now. He's targeting Feb. 4, when the C's take on the Dallas Mavericks at the Garden, for his first game back.
"I probably even could come back before that," Perkins said. "But I think we're going to be on the road. I want to make my first game a home game."
All things considered, it's been a short road to recovery for Perkins, who went down in the first quarter of the Celtics' Game 6 loss to the Lakers in last spring's NBA Finals. A torn ACL injury can derail a pro athlete for a year, maybe two, or even be career-threatening, but for Perkins, the comeback trail has been only seven months long.
Perkins attributes the speedy recovery to his conditioning — he says that in the month immediately following the injury, he was unable to work out, so he practically starved himself for fear of gaining weight. As soon as he was cleared medically to get back in the weight room, he went at it hard, and he quickly worked to trim body fat and convert his weight to pure muscle. He estimates that he weighed 280 pounds before the injury and is now around 272.
His coach agrees — Perkins looks great.
"First day for Perk live was phenomenal," Doc Rivers said after Sunday's practice. "He was great. Today was the first time this year that we had our real first unit on the floor. Today, offensively and defensively, was just at another level. They could run anything they wanted, because everybody knew where everybody was at."
With Perkins healthy, Kevin Garnett recovered from his own leg injury and the whole starting five back together, the C's are beginning to look like the team that advanced to the Finals last year again. The C's are loving it.
"It just felt good," Perkins said. "Kevin was out there today, and he looked great. I think the biggest thing was us defensively — I think we had a lot of good things we did defensively today, and offensively we moved the ball well. I think we looked real good today."