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Hard Work Pays Off for Kendrick Perkins

It's a pretty sight to see.
It's a pretty sight to see.

He scored just as suddenly as it was announced he was returning to the Celtics, and just like that Kendrick Perkins made his first on-court contribution of the season.

It's been a long road to recovery for Perkins, who has been missing from action since Game 6 of the NBA Finals with a torn ACL in his right knee. Not only did he have to watch from the sidelines as his team lost Game 6 and Game 7 to the Lakers, he had to watch Celtics GM Danny Ainge then sign two proven centers to take over the vacancy he left while being out.

But even then, Perkins was always present with the team. He was at just about every practice, watching and even coaching at times from the sidelines. When he wasn't playing the role of Doc Rivers, he was working even harder in the gym, waiting for the ‘OK' by doctors and trainers.

On January 24, 2011 after practice in Waltham, he finally got that ‘OK'. It wasn't soon after that that an overjoyed Perkins was shouting out the news to his teammates. Tomorrow would be the day, but now a 30-hour wait would seem longer than the last seven-plus months.

"I didn't sleep last night," Perkins said after the game. "I actually left the gym this morning at about one o'clock (am). "Went to the gym last night at about 10 (pm) so that's probably why I'm tired right now. I couldn't sleep last night. I couldn't wait; I was up all day, so it's all good."

It's no surprise that he was at the gym in the wee hours of the night - he's one of the hardest workers on the team and perhaps the league, and that's something that everyone can respect.

"He put the work in, he totally put the work in and he devoted himself to his body and his mental preparation and being in the gym everyday," Ray Allen said of Perkins prior to the game. "If he had to go two times a day he was in the gym."

"He is always the guy that has been the hard-hat lunch bucket worker on the team," Allen said later. "Just always has a great, hard work mentality when he is out there on the floor."

Perkins has always had the respect of his teammates, but his effort in his recovery is a lesson for them all as well. Allen mentioned the fact that Perkins' dedication reminded him not to take anything for granted, something that may be easy for an NBA superstar to do.

Regardless, there would be no sleepwalking through Tuesday night's game, not with one of their own returning to the court.

"Before the game, I kind of welcomed him back to the team," Rivers said. "You could see [the excitement]. They were clapping; they were very, they were really excited.  And they saw how hard he worked.  He looks great."

Perkins' hard work came full circle on Tuesday night when he walked up to the scorer's table with 8:02 to play in the first quarter. He entered the game to a deafening applause from the Garden crowd, just as he had wanted it. A salute to the fans showed them the appreciation Perkins had for them in return.

"You know, listen, there's people in the crowd that work hard every day, blue collar, and Perk identifies with all those people," Rivers said.  "I mean, Perk is - if you are a guy that works 9-5, you've got to love Perk because that's who he is."

Limited to 17 minutes, Perkins managed seven points, six rebounds, and three assists to boot. Granted it was against the NBA's JV team known as the Cavs, but burn is burn, and it was good for Perkins to get some before the West Coast trip.

"I thought he was terrific," Rivers said. "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 again defensively which was nice. You could hear him and Kevin [Garnett] barking orders defensively and that makes us really good."

Shaquille O'Neal missed the game and is questionable for games on the upcoming road trip. Jermaine O'Neal is out for about a month. That being said, Perkins' return couldn't have come at a better time for the Celtics.

"It's good to have the big fella back just to give us more depth at that position," Paul Pierce said. "It just seems like with our bigs you don't know who's going to be out there, but it's good to have him back out there definitely."

He left in the fourth quarter to a standing ovation not only from the fans, but also from his teammates who have seen the work he's put in to rejoin them on the court.

"I'm excited to have another brother back," Glen Davis said. "Perk, I've been playing with him for four years now and I'm just happy that he's here."

"I've watched him on the sidelines for three, four months," Allen said. "I remember the day when he was having surgery. It seems like such a long process and I'm happy for him because he gets to get back on the floor running up and down and, you know, once you come back from an injury you feel whole again because you're back with the team."

It didn't look like Perkins missed a beat; hustling down the court, grabbing rebounds, making the basket while getting fouled (and bricking the free throw). There was one thing missing from his game though... a technical foul.

"He's going to get a tech soon," Rivers said smiling. "I mean, he almost ran after the guy the one time.  And I was thinking, ‘You've got to be kidding me.  Perk's back.'  That's the whole bench; when he did it the bench started laughing, saying ‘Perk's back.'"

In fact, that was his goal.

"I was trying to get a tech to show everybody I was back," he half-jokingly said.

It's a big "if", but if the Celtics can finally start to get healthy all at once, the league should take notice. Additions like Perkins, and Delonte West in the near future are enough to keep a normally "bored" team during the regular season entertained just long enough to get them to the playoffs. From there, everybody knows what the team is capable of.

"Him coming back has a great symbolism to it," Allen said. "We know what we are trying to get back to. We are trying to get this team back to where we are 100%."

It was Perkins who had trouble sleeping Monday night, but with the promise this team now holds going forth, it may be Celtics fans finding it tough to sleep at night.

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