Kendrick Perkins says he didn't sleep on Monday night. Not a wink. He showed up at the Celtics' practice facility in Waltham at 10 p.m. for a quick last-minute workout, and he ended up staying three hours. He stumbled home at 1 a.m., and he spent the rest of the night tossing and turning, unable to drift off. He had a big day ahead.
The following night, Perkins shocked the world by making an early return to the TD Garden floor. In front of a sellout crowd of 18,624, Perk took the court against the Cleveland Cavaliers and played 17 minutes off the bench, his first appearance in an NBA game since Game 6 of the Finals seven months ago.
While rookie Semih Erden started the game at center, Perkins checked in at the 8:02 mark of the first quarter when Erden found himself in early foul trouble. A thunderous standing ovation for Perkins began immediately as he began walking to the scorer's table, and it carried on through the end of Ramon Sessions' two free throws. Perkins' injury last spring may have cost the Celtics their 18th banner, but there was absolutely no love lost for the big man in the Garden crowd Tuesday.
"It felt good," Perkins said of the fans' support. "I was trying not to be too emotional — I was just trying to stay focused and just play a good game. But they showed a lot of love, and it was really a great feeling."
What's more, the Celtics were able to ride the exhilaration of Perk's return to a blowout win. The Celtics led 9-6 after Sessions' two shots; they piled it on in the first quarter and led 34-26 at the first break. By halftime, it was a blowout. The C's won by a 112-95 final, fueled by Perkins' seven points, six rebounds, three assists and boundless energy. This was a team with renewed purpose.
"I thought bringing Perk back would help us tonight," coach Doc Rivers said. "They were excited. Before the game, I kind of welcomed him back to the team, and you could see it. They were clapping, they were really very excited. And they saw how hard he worked. It was great."
The original plan was for Perkins to come back on Friday, Feb. 4, when the Celtics take on the Mavericks in their next home game. Rivers agreed to bring Perkins back early and said he would continue to use him on the team's upcoming West road trip, but warned that his minutes would stay down, between 16 and 18 per game.
"I think me and Doc might have to fight over that," Perkins said with a smile. "I don't know — if I'm feeling all right, I might tell him to leave me in. But you know, he's just looking out for me. [Trainer] Ed Lacerte, [physician] Brian McKeon, they all just want the best for me."
With Perkins' return, the Celtics have moved one step closer to seeing their roster reach full strength. Their plan this season was to have a deep, dangerous army of big men, and now that plan is coming together.
"We're always talking about it," Perkins said. "Once we get healthy all the way, I think we'll be pretty much unstoppable. Especially in our frontcourt, we can throw whatever at you — [Shaquille O'Neal], Kevin [Garnett], [Glen Davis], myself, Semih. If anybody gets in foul trouble, we can pick the slack up or whatever. We've got all the weapons, we've just got to make sure we can use them."