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Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Perk returns as the Celtics eviscerate hapless Cavaliers

As long as they took care of business last night at home against the Cleveland Cavaliers (a nightmare of a team that had lost 17 in a row), the Boston Celtics would be able to punch in and check out on time in one of the most pointless contests of the regular season.

However, this largely meaningless exhibition took on plenty of meaning as right before game-time Twitter blew up with the surprise announcement that Celtics center Kendrick Perkins would return to the TD Garden parquet.

Riding the wave of emotion and momentum with their true center back, the Celts (34-10) rolled to an easy 112-95 win over Cleveland (8-37).

Semih Erden (8 rebounds) started but a few minutes into the game, Celtics head coach Doc Rivers put in Perk and he rightfully received a standing ovation. He only played 17 minutes but Perkins put up a respectable seven points, six rebounds and three assists.

Everybody knows that Perk's game is about defense, toughness and presence inside, things that usually don't pop out on a box score or in stat sheets. One of the great unknowns in Boston sports from the last decade is whether the Celtics would have won Game 6 in last season's NBA Finals or Game 7 with a healthy Perk.

Whatever the case, it was great to see him back and contributing. It was the first time this season that Boston's starting five was intact and it was thanks to Kendrick's remarkable rehabilitation from a torn ACL.

Other than Rajon Rondo (11 points, 10 assists, 4 assists), the rest of the Celtics veterans got to sit for much of the second half. Paul Pierce scored 24 points, Ray Allen added 18 points and Kevin Garnett had 10 points.

The cumulative effect of having a healthy starting five was that Boston's bench suddenly looks much more versatile and deep (funny how that works). Nate Robinson and Glen Davis both scored 11 points while Von Wafer had 10 points and Luke Harangody notched eight points.

Marquis Daniels was out due to a family emergency but he's expected back tomorrow night.

I would never say this but you almost have to feel bad for the Cavaliers. Yes, LeBron had the right to leave their miserable city but he really left the franchise in a bad place that will be tough to crawl out of for years.

A guy named Christian Eyenga (that I'd never heard of) led Cleveland with 15 points. Ramon Sessions added 14 points and seven assists, J.J. Hickson had 12 points and 17 rebounds while Antawn Jamison put up 11 points.

Manny Harris scored 14 points off the bench for the Cavs while Joey Graham and Samardo Samuels each had 10 points.

The Celtics depart for a tricky four-game West Coast trip beginning tomorrow night at Portland. After that they go to Phoenix on Friday, face the Lakers for the first time since the Finals on Sunday then end it in Sacramento on Tuesday. 3-1 is my hope but 2-2 is definitely possible.

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