The Celtics’ 109-96 win over the Lakers on Sunday was a bittersweet reminder of what could have been (and in many people’s opinions what would have been) in Game 7 of last year’s NBA Finals if starting center Kendrick Perkins had not been sidelined due to the devastating knee injury he suffered in Game 6. LA killed Boston on the glass in Game 7, grabbing 23 offensive rebounds. Without Perkins, the Celtics lost the rebounding battle and, ultimately, the championship as a result.
The Grizzlies drafted Perkins straight out of high school with their 27th overall pick in 2003, but immediately dealt him to the Celtics. Now in his eighth NBA season, the 26-year-old vet has developed into one of the league’s best low-post defenders and a strong rebounder. During the 2008-09 season, Perkins averaged 8.1 rebounds per game, the best season average of his career.
After undergoing ACL surgery and a lengthy rehabilitation, Perkins rejoined the Celtics’ active roster four games back. He put up 7 points and pulled down 6 rebounds in his season debut against the Cavs, following up with 10 points and 9 rebounds against the Blazers. With his sturdy, wide build and long arms, Perkins gives the Celtics a solid interior presence. Tough as nails, he sticks his nose in it and takes the punishment. The return of this beloved big to the C’s lineup is key if they hope to make another championship run in the playoffs.
Though Perkins averaged 10.1 ppg last season, he’s not a consistent scorer. He’ll get some points off of offensive rebounds, in transition, by getting to the foul line and by hitting the occasional medium-range jump shot. But Perk will boost your rebounds and get you a couple blocks as his minutes steadily increase. Tonight the kings of the Eastern Conference head West to face the Sacramento Kings in their first of three games this week.
The Boston Celtics, owners of the NBA’s second best record at 34-10, come to The Rose Garden in Portland tonight to take on coach Nate McMillan’s banged-up Blazers. With starters Brandon Roy and Marcus Camby out of the lineup already with serious knee troubles, Portland is hoping that fifth-year PF LaMarcus Aldridge, their active leading scorer and rebounder, will be ready come tip-off against Doc Rivers’ formidable front line.
Aldridge had an MRI on his right hip two days ago after hurting himself in the Blazers’ home loss to Sacramento on Monday night, 96-81. The rare home loss ended Portland’s season-high five-game win streak. Even with the defeat, Portland is an impressive 16-6 on their home floor. At 25-21, the Blazers currently sit 8th in the Western Conference.
A win tonight would carry added importance because six of their next eight contests are on the road and the two home games in this stretch are against the NBA elite – San Antonio Spurs (best record in the league) and Chicago Bulls (fifth-best record in NBA).
The Celtics have had their share of injury woes as well in the 2010-11 campaign. The veteran bigs O’Neal, Jermaine and Shaquille are currently sidelined with an
assortment of aches and dings that come with a
combined 34 years of NBA low-post, trench work
experience. However, in the C’s last game, a Tuesday night home win over the spiraling Cavaliers, starting center Kendrick Perkins made his season debut.
Perk last wore the green and white in game 6 of the NBA Finals in Los Angeles, when he tore his right anterior cruciate ligament. In his first game back, Perkins came off the bench to spell current starting 5-man, Turkish rookie Semih Erden. KP played 18 minutes and had seven points, six boards and three dimes after receiving a lengthy standing ovation from the Garden gathered grateful.
A great matchup to focus on tonight is the point guard duel featuring Portland’s 12th year, wily vet Andre Miller and the dynamic Celtic lead guard Rajon Rondo. Former Kentucky Wildcat Rondo leads the NBA in assists at 12.9 and is second in steals at 2.45. In the Blazers’ loss on December 1st in Beantown, Miller had 20 and 6, while the Celtic QB had 10 and 10. Also in that game, the longest-tenured Celtic and 2010 3-point Champion Paul Pierce scored a game-high 28 points.
Portland is known as the ‘greenest’ major city in the country. Maybe that’s why the Celtics have been so successful there recently. Boston has won their single regular season visit to Rip City in 7 of the last 10 years, including last year’s 96-76 blowout. Tune in tonight at 10:30 PM ET on TNT as the eastern-most franchise in the NBA visits the league’s western-most franchise.
The Heat and the Celtics have their eyes on the same prize: getting to and winning the NBA Finals in June. The Lakers will be showing off their newly acquired championship rings in a pregame ceremony at the Staples Center tonight and appear ready to threepeat for another title and more bling.
Rings, this game is all about championship rings: LeBron on the beach looking for that first ring; Shaq in Boston determined to get championship number five to keep up with his former teammate and now trophy rival Kobe Bryant.
The finals are a very long, arduous regular season away. But there’s the type of buzz surrounding the start of this season that we usually don’t encounter until playoff time. And tonight’s opener between the Celtics and Heat features two teams at the center of the drama as the Celtics’ Big Three Pierce, Garnett and Allen prepare to do battle with Miami’s newly formed triumvirate of James, Wade and Bosh for Eastern Conference supremacy
Tonight’s matchup will put into motion the many exciting subplots set to play out this season. Will D-Wade occupy seat 1 or seat 2? Will Rajon Rondo make the proverbial jump to superstar? How will Kendrick Perkins’ injured knee and his mid-season return to the starting lineup affect the Celts? Will Miami’s supporting cast surrounding the stars step up and deliver? Will Coach Doc Rivers be happy with his big decision to come back to the Boston bench after the heartbreaking Game 7 loss in last year’s Finals to the Los Angeles Lakers. And how will second-year head coach Erik Spoelstra lead his new awesome threesome?
Did I mention LeBron James joining Dwyane Wade and the Heat?
The biggest star in professional basketball (professional sports?) leaves his almost-hometown team (the Akron Cavs?) via a prime-time television special and relocates to flashy, splashy Miami to join forces with D-Wade, Chris Bosh and Pat Boss, aka team president Pat Riley.
Some prognosticators have been throwing around the Michael Jordan-led 1995-96 Champion Chicago Bulls and their 72-10 all-time best regular season mark as a measuring stick for this Miami team. Jordan, Pippen and Rodman … James, Wade and Bosh – different eras, different players for sure, but similar expectations in many fans’ and even experts’ minds.
Anything less than a dominating start of the season in the wins column will be viewed as a letdown for this newer than new Miami Heat squad. Expectations of success are higher than maybe any team has shouldered since those mid-to-late 90’s Bulls teams that won three titles back-to-back-to-back.
The Celtics on the other hand, having won the crown in 2008 with what was then considered a veteran team, are statistically the oldest team in the NBA and may be forgiven for some regular season stretches of sub-par play due to wear and tear.
However, Boston fans could taste franchise-record title 18 until the final, final moments of Finals’ Game 7 last year and are hungry for another championship banner to add to the Celtics’ collection in the rafters of the TD Garden.
The quest for the coveted 2011 NBA Championship ring starts tonight. Marv Albert, Steve Kerr and I have Miami Heat at Boston Celtics at 7:30 PM EST on TNT.