One way or another, the Celtics were prepared to lose Kendrick Perkins at some point in these NBA Finals. They never expected it would happen like this.
Perkins and the Celtics confirmed the worst at practice on Wednesday afternoon, letting everyone know that there's no chance of the Boston center playing in Thursday night's Game 7 against the Lakers on his injured right knee. He has a torn MCL and PCL, and he entered the Staples Center for practice on crutches.
"He's not going to go," Doc Rivers said before Wednesday's practice. "I can tell you that now."
Perkins has been huge for the Celtics in this postseason, not only averaging 5.7 points, 6.2 rebounds and 1.4 blocks per game, but also doing countless things that don't show up on the stat sheet. He's been setting picks, boxing out opposing bigs to help his teammates on the glass and acting as an "enforcer" when things get physical. Now, the Celtics are forced to move on without him. Perkins will be inactive Thursday night, and there are even no guarantees about him playing the early part of the 2010-11 season.
"It's terribly unfortunate," said Ray Allen. "You know, you hate to see anybody [hurt], if it was on this team or the other team. But we have to do this for him. We have to push forward, and there are guys that are on the bench that can step up and make the plays that Perk is capable of, that Perk has made over the course of our time here."
Rasheed Wallace, who's battled health issues of his own lately with a bad back, will have to step up. Glen Davis, an undersized big man fighting a tough battle with the Lakers massive post presence, will have to give a strong effort, too. Shelden Williams hardly played at all before Perk went down, but now he's a factor. Brian Scalabrine wasn't even on the active roster Tuesday night — but now, who knows?
"It does make Glen more valuable, and Rasheed will play more minutes, and definitely Shelden will be in there a lot more," Allen said. "We're going to be counting on them."
The Celtics still have the four All-Star members of their starting five, but who else will hear his name called when the Boston starters are introduced Thursday at the Staples Center? That's a question the Celtics are leaving unanswered.
"I haven't given that any thought yet on who we would start," Rivers said late Tuesday night after the Celtics lost Game 6. "It's pretty easy to figure out — it'll be one of two guys, Rasheed or Baby. But I'm not sure. We've got to get better play out of Baby, and I told him that after the game. We do. He has to come with that same spirit he came in the famous 'Shrek and Donkey' game. We need that again, and we need that from everybody."
A day later, there was no new news to report.
"I haven't decided," Rivers said Wednesday. "We'll just wait until tomorrow."
But no matter who hears his number called first, the game will be dramatically different without Perkins there as the Celtics' bouncer in the low post.
The Celtics got a preview of that in Game 6 — they lost Perkins in the seventh minute, and they got a taste of this Lakers matchup sans starting center. It didn't go well, as the Celtics lost the rebounding battle 52-39, points in the paint 40-32, and second-chance points 15-6. When you don't have that interior presence, you're in deep trouble.
"No size," said Rivers. "Honestly, [in Game 6] it wouldn't have mattered, the way things were going, but it would have been nice to have him on the floor. He's one of our guys that I think gives us great spirit, gives us a lot of toughness and gives us size."
"I'm sure it had a big effect on the ballgame," said Lakers coach Phil Jackson. "You know, he only played the first quarter, six or seven minutes or whatever in that segment. But I think our energy was good enough that it was not a matter of who wasn't there, it was about what we were going to do. We were trying to determine our own fate tonight."
Jackson is right — in Game 6, the Lakers won because they were the better team on that night. But the Celtics now have a day to plan for life without Perkins. They can try out different combinations, different lineups. They will find a way to win, and come Thursday night, it's up to them to take the floor and execute it.
"It's like I told our guys this morning," Rivers said. "Somebody has a great opportunity tomorrow. That's the way we have to look at it."