By Jessica Camerato
BOSTON -- The TD Garden erupted in applause four minutes after tip-off.
Kendrick Perkins rose from the Boston Celtics' bench and removed his warmup jersey, displaying number 43 for the first time in more than seven months. Cheers began to rumble as he walked over to the scorers table, many fans unaware of his early return.
But when the announcer introduced him for the first time this season, there was no mistaking it. The Garden crowd rose to its feet for a lengthy standing ovation.
Perkins was back.
"It felt good," Perkins said. "It felt real good, to be honest. I think just the support of everybody supporting me, I was just happy to be back out there."
Perkins return from right knee surgery dominated the attention in a matchup between the best and worst teams in the Eastern Conference.
The Celtics handed the Cavs their 18th straight loss, 112-95, and improved to 34-10. The visiting Cavaliers, on the other hand, fell to 8-37.
Paul Pierce kicked off the night with 17 points in the first quarter. Perkins scored his first basket of the season at the 7:15 mark and finished the quarter with two points and two assists. The Celtics closed out the quarter on 12-3 run to lead, 34-26.
It as the first time all season that the C's starting five was on the court together.
"I thought he was terrific," Doc Rivers said of Perkins. "I thought as the game went on, his timing got better. I thought defensively he was terrific from the start. Just communication, we were loud against defensively, which was nice. You could hear him and Kevin Garnett barking orders defensively, and that makes us really good."
The Cs broke the game open in the second quarter, outscoring the Cavs 33-19. Ray Allen scored eight points in as many minutes, while Pierce chipped in another seven. Samardo Samuels and Manny Harris were the only Cavs players to score more than two points in the quarter. The Celtics took a 67-45 lead at halftime.
Even though the Cavs matched the Celtics with 24 points in the third, the deficit was too large to overcome. The Cs led, 91-69, after three quarters thanks to 11 points from their reserves. J.J. Hickson scored 10 points in 12 minutes for the Cavs.
The Celtics' second unit helped close out the game with a 21-point fourth quarter. Perkins finished his season debut with 7 points, 6 rebounds, 3 assists, and 2 fouls in 16 minutes - the max he was cleared to play. (He noted, to no surprise, that he wanted to play longer.)
"It felt good to be back," Perkins said. "The first quarter I got a little tired. After that, I got my second wind and I was alright. It felt good to be in the flow of things."
Pierce led all players with 24 points before heading back to the locker room during the fourth quarter after tweaking his ankle. (Rivers lightly referred to as a "veteran injury.) Christian Eyenga led the Cavaliers with 15.
Jessica Camerato is on Twitter at http:twitter.comjcameratonba