Perkins set to return to the Garden

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Perkins set to return to the Garden

BOSTON Just a few months back, days before the NBA lockout was over, Kendrick Perkins was back in town donning something other than a Celtics jersey for a charity basketball game organized by Rajon Rondo.

The former Celtic is back in town and once again, suiting up for someone other than the Green team.

"It'll be weird for me," Perkins told CSNNE.com when asked about his first return to the Garden on Monday night. "Because you know, all I know -- all I knew -- was being a Celtic. But hey man, it's a business."

Perkins was a key component in the trade last February that sent him to Oklahoma City in exchange for Nenad Krstic and Jeff Green. Krstic signed with a team in Russia last June, and Green -- the key piece of the trade for Boston -- is out for the season following heart surgery last week.

Even though Perkins is with another team, C's head coach Doc Rivers said he's always going to see Perkins as part of the Celtics family.

"I don't give a crap what uniform he has on," Rivers said. "He's a Celtic for life, and he knows that."

Said Perkins: "You know I'm always going to have love for Boston and the fans. I had some good times, some bad times, too. But they showed me a lot of love, lot of love."

And it's not just the fans, either. His former Boston teammates have, without question, missed him since the trade.

In fact, one could argue that the Perkins trade is one of the main reasons the team has taken a slide from its once-elite status to now fighting just to be .500 this season.

Prior to the trade last February, the C's had a record of 41-14 which was among the NBA's best. Following the trade, they were 15-12. Tack on the 4-7 start this season, and the C's are just 19-19 in the regular season since the Perkins trade.

And when you throw in the fact that they were eliminated in the second round of the playoffs last year by the Miami Heat in five games, the belief that losing Perkins cost the C's at least one more shot at an NBA title does have some merit.

Following his departure, it was well documented how the trade had an impact -- a negative impact, mind you -- on the entire team, including Rondo.

The two were about as close as two teammates could be, on and off the court.

"We still talk daily," Rondo said. "We're still best friends."

What often went unnoticed was how Perkins had a strong bond with his other teammates as well, all of whom reflect fondly on how he has evolved over the years into a respected leader on and off the court.

"I've been able to see Perk since he was a 350-pound rookie to now, one of the slimmest centers in the league," said Paul Pierce. "It's just amazing the transformation he's made. It's incredible where he started, to where he is now."

But after the pre-game love fest, it's back to work for the Celtics.

"We're trying to find a way out of this hole," Pierce said.

That leadership element that Perkins brings to the Thunder, is a direct result from his many battles in practice with Kevin Garnett.

"With Kevin, you know what you getting every night everything he got," Perkins said. "All he wants to do is help you get better, and win. You know I'm not Ticket. But I think I can bring some things, maybe some toughness, a bucket every now and then, to help my team."

And an occasional hard foul?

"Who me?" said a grinning Perkins. "I just play hard man, that's all. I just play hard and try to help my team get that 'W' any way I can."

Even after the trade, Perkins still kept in close contact with his former teammates.

"Perk's like my little brother," Garnett said. "We speak quite frequently. I know when he first went out there, we spoke if not everyday, every other day. I know him and Rondo speak damn near on the hour."

That bond between Perkins and Garnett came after years of competing against one another, with lots of stare-downs, harsh words exchanged and of course, physical play.

"We used to butt heads pretty hard and was very competitive," Garnett acknowledged. "Once we got here, we sort of embraced and became brothers like everybody in here. Obviously we won (an NBA title in 2008), and then, that connects you for life. Like Doc said, he'll be a Celtic for life. He knows that. And I think he understands that; that's in his heart. He might be in OKC, but in his heart he's a 'C.' "

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WATCH: Celtics vs. Cavs

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Celtics-Cavs preview: Something to prove against the best in East

Celtics-Cavs preview: Something to prove against the best in East

BOSTON – Brad Stevens has said on more than one occasion that the Boston Celtics’ record (38-22) is a bit better than their actual play.

While it may come across as exaggerated humility on Stevens’ part, the coach makes a very good point.

Despite Boston having the second-best record in the Eastern Conference, they have struggled mightily this season against the top-four teams in the East outside of themselves.

Boston will have a chance to rewrite at least one chapter in that narrative tonight when they host the defending NBA champion Cleveland Cavaliers.

Against the top-four teams in the East (Cleveland, Washington, Toronto and Atlanta), the Celtics are just 3-8 which falls short of how those teams have fared against one another this season.

The Cavs are 7-1 against the East’s top-4 clubs with the lone loss at Atlanta in November. Toronto (5-5) and Atlanta (4-4) have a .500 records against the top-4 while Washington (4-5) is just a game below-.500.

That’s why tonight’s game against Cleveland is so important to Boston.

It’s not just about beating the best team in the East.

For them, it’s about beating a good team, the kind of team that they have to get past in the postseason if they are to make the kind of deep playoff run that so many of the players have their sights set on.

Coming off of a 114-98 home loss to Atlanta, the Celtics know they have to play better – a lot better – to avoid losing a second game in a row, and four of their last five.

“They’re a good team,” said Boston’s Jaylen Brown. “If we’re not locked in, they’ll beat us worse than the Hawks. So we have to come out, execute, play harder, feed off the crowd and do our job. We should be victorious.”

That’s easier said than done, especially when you’re talking about a Cleveland team that’s truly built for the postseason.

That said, the Cavs are about as vulnerable to defeat now as they will be anytime this season.

All-Star forward Kevin Love is out until late March following “minor” surgery on his left knee.

“There’s definitely enough time to where I can get into a good rhythm,” Love told reporters earlier this week.

In addition to Love, the Cavs are also without J.R. Smith who underwent right thumb surgery in December that’s expected to keep him out until at least the middle of March.

Said Love, “I imagine between J.R. and myself, we’ll get out there and get our wind and be ready to go for (the playoffs) in April.”

Even without Love and Smith, Cleveland has plenty of firepower to remain the team to beat in the East.

It all starts with LeBron James who is averaging 25.7 points, 7.9 rebounds and a career-high 8.9 assists per game while shooting 54.1 percent from the field.

And then there’s Kyrie Irving who continues to play at a level which puts him among the best guards in the NBA. He’s averaging a career-high 24.6 points while dishing out 6.0 assists to go with 3.3 rebounds.

Tristan Thompson. Iman Shumpert. New guys Derrick Williams and Deron Williams.

Go down the line and it’s clear that the Cavs have elite talent and depth to which beating them, regardless of who may be missing in action, will not be easy.

Meanwhile, the Celtics have to simply do what they do best … only better.

“It’s going to be a tough one,” said Boston’s Isaiah Thomas. “We’ve got to make shots.”