Quite honestly, I didn’t watch tonight’s game as intently as I normally do. I usually take notes, but I didn’t do that. I usually Tweet up a storm, but I didn’t. I just watched like an average fan, taking no notes, and all along Kendrick Perkins rested in the back of my mind.
If I felt like that, so focused on the trade rather than the game at hand, how could the players — Perk’s brothers — ever focus? It’s no wonder the Celtics lost by 14 points, 89-75. They were playing a mile above sea level, halfway across the country, with only nine healthy players, on a day when their collective heart was broken and their shots were nowhere in sight.
The C’s just weren’t ready to play tonight, and — just this once — I’m not going to blame them. I can forgive tonight’s effort — shooting 39.0%, being outrebounded 52-38, and scoring only 75 points against the Denver Nuggets — because I know what they’ve been through. Just a few hours before the game, Kendrick Perkins was crying and saying goodbye. Kendrick Perkins, I repeat, crying. In the past two weeks, I’ve seen both Perkins and Jerry Sloan cry, two men who were never supposed to be reduced to tears. The Celtics loved Perk, and, far more than I, will miss him (though I already miss him quite a bit).
Boston signed Chris Johnson to a ten-day contract, mostly because their frontcourt rotation now resembles Johnson himself — very much lacking beef. I poke fun at Johnson, but he played a nice game tonight. He pieced together a Rudy-esque effort, one of those “If you had a tenth of the heart of Chris Johnson, you’d have made All-NBA by now” nights. I’m not sure Johnson will ever play so hard again — he might have been so active only because it was his first NBA game, and he was dying to impress someone, anyone. But he never stopped moving. Ever. He blocked shots. Caught an alley oop. And even though he still looks like he could use a whole bunch of protein shakes, Johnson made a positive impact. He just never stopped working. Sadly, for the Celtics, not everyone worked so hard. I have a feeling their minds were like mine: still stuck with Perk.
The story of tonight’s game was not Kendrick Perkins, and the Celtics — despite taking their sweet-ass time to rush to Garnett’s aid — weren’t entirely lacking toughness in Perk’s stead. But this team, until one or both of the O’Neal’s regain health, lacks bulk and strength down low, and Perk’s willingness to mix it up will be sorely missed. Nenad Krstic fails to inspire fear (or even any sense of trepidation) in his opponents, and there’s never any guarantee the O’Neal’s will ever return to full health. The C’s will likely add a player (or two, or three players) who get bought out, but Troy Murphy, Samuel Dalembert or Leon Powe aren’t going to supply the same iron soul Perk did.
During the third quarter, Kevin Garnett took an elbow from Kenyon Martin and crumbled to the floor. This was the Celtics as we know them; chippy, hard-working, annoying, causing opponents to overreact with unnecessary elbows and force. Garnett fell to the court, and Martin would normally have a scowl in his face a split-second later — and a green and white ’43′ bumping against his chest. But Kendrick Perkins wasn’t there to meet Martin. Glen Davis came running into the fray a few seconds later, and the other C’s followed. Yet none of the late-comers, I can promise, intimidated Martin. The Celtics, you see, have lost their muscle.