By A. Sherrod Blakely
BOSTON Boston Celtics center Kendrick Perkins went through his usual pre-game routine of getting shots up, stretching and all the behind-the-scenes stuff that he has to do to ensure that his surgically repaired right knee is up to par.
But Friday night was different.
He wasn't just prepping to play.
Prior to the game, Perkins told CSNNE.com that he was going to make his first start against the Dallas Mavericks.
While it was an impressive debut - he had 13 points and a team-high 12 rebounds - it wasn't enough as the Mavericks pulled out a 101-97 win.
Dallas, which has won seven straight, closed out the game with an 10-0 run which included a 3-pointer by Jason Kidd with 2.5 seconds to play that proved to be the game-winning shot.
Despite the loss, it couldn't totally diminish Perkins' return to the starting lineup, a move that may very well remain intact for the remainder of the season.
Celtics coach Doc Rivers was non-committal prior to the game on whether Perkins' return to the lineup would stick when Shaquille O'Neal (right Achilles injury) returns to the lineup.
If the decision was based on production, Perkins has his job back with the starting group, easily.
"He's getting better and better for us each game," said Boston's Paul Pierce. "You guys don't really see the work that he puts in behind the scenes to get to this point. Hopefully down the road with his contributions and getting Shaq healthy and Jermaine (O'Neal) healthy, it will make us very, very deep at that position. We love the way he is playing right now."
So does Doc Rivers, who had no plans on playing Perkins a season-high 32 minutes.
When Perkins returned to the lineup, Rivers said he was most concerned with how Perkins would handle an extended stretch of minutes with no break in between.
That's why the 32 minutes Perkins played on Friday was not something he was overly concerned about afterwards.
"I'm more worried about it (minutes played) in a row," Rivers said. "I thought we went over that in the fourth quarter, but he looked good so I just kept him in."
And that has been Perkins' plan all along - to make it as tough as possible for Rivers to take him off the floor.
Mission accomplished, big fella.
Against the Mavericks, Perkins did many of the things that have made him such an integral part of the Celtics' success in recent years.
Because he was usually on the floor with four All-stars, Perkins is often the forgotten man.
And on more than one occasion, he made the Mavericks pay for looking past him.
"Basically, he's in the right spot and he finished lay-ups and that's what we needed him to do," Rivers said. "Defensively he was terrific, rebounding the ball well. So, we got a lot out of Perk."
You hear a lot about the Celtics Fantastic foursome of Ray Allen, Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce and Rajon Rondo - all were selected as all-star reserves on Thursday.
But the contributions of Perkins should not be discounted.
In the first half of Friday's loss, the Celtics were plus-4 with Perkins on the floor, tops among all Celtics at that point in the game.
And while the Celtics have been able to win a number of games in his absence, there's no mistaking his return can only bolster a C's frontline that took another hit on Friday when Jermaine O'Neal had surgery on his left knee that will keep him sidelined until late March-early April.
Dallas coach Rick Carlisle is among those to see Perkins' value to the C's.
Perkins "gives them another dynamic, athletic strong, big guy who is under-rated skill wise," Carlisle said.
And that skill-set usually can be seen most often in his play defensively, which only makes one of the team's top defensive squads even better.
"That's what the Celtics are known for, their defense," Mavericks guard Jason Terry told CSNNE.com. "You know that whenever you play them. They're going to make it as tough as possible for you, especially the deeper you get into the game."