Sunday, December 20, 2009
Perkins keeping up with Jefferson
By Chris Forsberg
BOSTON -- Maybe, just maybe, the Minnesota Timberwolves picked the wrong young big man.
Al Jefferson registered 20 points and 10 rebounds in another quality outing against his old team, the Boston Celtics, but good friend and former teammate Kendrick Perkins finished with 14 points, 11 rebounds and a pair of blocks to help the Celtics emerge with a 122-104 triumph Sunday night at TD Garden.
While Jefferson is among the top scorers in basketball -- Celtics coach Doc Rivers joked before the game that Jefferson could "score in his sleep" -- Perkins continues to flourish at both ends of the court.
Perkins helped force Jefferson into a 9-of-18 shooting performance, while leading the Celtics on the defensive glass (Boston finished with a 45-41 advantage in rebounds).
And while the Timberwolves almost certainly have no regrets about the key piece of the deal that brought Kevin Garnett to Boston, Perkins -- like Jefferson -- is quickly establishing himself among the top young big men in the game.
"[Perkins is] always accepting the challenge of guarding some of the best post players in the league," gushed Celtics captain Paul Pierce, who called Jefferson "one of the young, big, up-and-coming big men in the league."
"[Perkins has] been bringing it every night. Perk really doesn't get a lot of credit for things he does because of me and Kevin and Ray [Allen], but I really think Perk is one of the more underrated big men in all of the league.
"He's starting to be more consistent each and every night. Defensively, what we're asking him to do, we're asking him to guard the best guys down low, night in and night out, he's playing on a high level and in my eyes he's one of the top centers in not only the East, but in all of basketball."
Jefferson wouldn't argue. Before the game, he suggested Perkins would be an All-Star soon if he continued his upward trajectory. Following the game, he shoveled praise as if it were Sunday's snow.
"Perk is getting better and better," said Jefferson. "If he keeps playing the way he's playing, he's going to get a big contract. He's a great defensive player, always has been. He's just getting better. Plus his offensive game is getting better, his offensive rebounding. He's tough to block out, so mad respect [to him]."
Perkins, who led the NBA in field-goal percentage entering Sunday's games (64.1 percent), did a nice job of finishing around the basket (7-of-10 from the floor), but his most impressive work came on the defensive end. Unlike the teams' first meeting in Minnesota -- a 92-90 nail-biting triumph for the Celtics -- Perkins didn't allow Jefferson to catch the ball near the basket, forcing tougher shots.
"I thought Perk did his work early tonight," said Celtics coach Doc Rivers. "I thought in Minnesota, he'd allow Al to catch it deep, every time. And tonight he met him at the free-throw line, he knocked him off his space, and he forced him to catch it so far off the block -- now we could dig and stay on our own guys. So I thought that was huge tonight."
The Perkins praise-a-thon gave Garnett the chance to recognize just how far Boston's center has come this year. In his seventh season out of Clifton J. Ozen High School in Beaumont, Texas, Perkins has doubled his career scoring average, entering Sunday's game at 12 points to go with 7.8 rebounds and 1.4 blocks per game.
"He's improved," said Garnett. "The one thing Doc expressed here is knowing your role, and he tries to go out and do that every day, every night -- even in practice. But the thing that stands out about [Perkins], because I get to see him every day, is that he works on his game every single day and that's what you want from a young guy."
Perkins is making a bargain-basement $4.25 million this season and will enter the final year of his contract next season. Like point guard Rajon Rondo before him, Perkins is making a strong case for the Celtics to lock him up before other teams get a chance to lure him away.
Chris Forsberg is a roving reporter for ESPNBoston.com. Follow him on Twitter.