His return could bring them back to the brink.
When the 6-foot-10 center first rejoined the lineup against the Cleveland Cavaliers on Jan. 25, it was immediately evident that it would take some time to get him back to full speed. On offense, Perkins struggled, fumbling a number of crisp passes from Rajon Rondo and turning the ball over nine times in his first four games back.
Perhaps most frustrating, though, was the Texas native's once-sterling defense. Too slow rotating to penetrating players, Perkins allowed six of the first nine opposing teams he faced to score 40 or more points in the paint — a domain he dominated in the past. And while Perk was never one to pack the stat sheet, it took him an uncharacteristic six games to record his first block.
"I was a little winded and a little off-key. I can get better," the one-time NBA champion said after his first game back.
And quickly, Perkins' offense showed signs of improvement. He notched a double-double with 13 points and 12 rebounds in a Feb. 4 loss to the Dallas Mavericks, but his defense was still problematic. Opposing center Tyson Chandler outbattled Perk for 14 points, 15 boards and a block.
Against Orlando, Perkins pulled down a season-high 13 rebounds, but finished with zero points and allowed rival big man Dwight Howard to go off for 28 points and 13 boards of his own.
Sunday, it all seemed to finally come together for the eight-year veteran.
In his journey back from major reconstructive surgery on his ACL, you could say the matchup with Miami was Perkins' rebirth. He logged a season-high 15 points on an efficient 4-of-8 shooting and seemed to get his touch back from the charity stripe, going 7-of-9 after a frustrating 12-of-25 start to his 2010-11 campaign.
But his biggest impact, as has always been the case with Perk, came on the defensive end of the floor. His rotations were on-time and accurate, often forcing either LeBron James or Dwyane Wade to redirect their drives — largely explaining Miami's 17 turnovers (10 of which were charged to James and Wade).
"I think me being happy to be out there is just overpowering everything else, so I'm really not even thinking about my hamstrings or whatever it may be," Perk said after the 85-82 win that kept the Celtics perfect against the Heat this season. "I'm just going out there competing, and I know we're short of guys, so I'm just doing what [it takes]."
And he's not the only relieved to see Perkins' progress.
"I'm just so happy he's back," said Glen Davis, who played the final 6:22 in Perkins' stead as head coach Doc Rivers opted for the stronger offensive big man. "He's been sitting on the sideline watching us play and he comes back and is making his presence felt. That's what it's all about. You can see how important he is to us."
And consider this: Sunday was just Perkins' 10th game back after almost eight months on hiatus. Barring a setback, that's a promising indication of what the future holds — both for Perk, and the Boston Celtics.