|Inside the Kendrick Perkins-Dwight Howard matchup||02.05.11 at 5:19 pm ET|
Kendrick Perkins is renowned as one of the few men in the NBA who can go toe-to-toe with Dwight Howard. It’s a reputation that has grown over the years, ever since their meeting in the 2009 playoffs when Perkins stood tall with a shoulder injury so severe he couldn’t lift his arm over his head.
After missing the first two games against the Magic this season, Perkins is back in action — and the starting lineup — just in time for the rematch with Orlando on Sunday afternoon.
It’s been a fast climb for Perkins, who recorded his first double-double of the season with 13 points and 12 rebounds in 32 minutes against the Mavericks on Friday. He’s progressed so quickly that he’s obliterated the minutes restrictions that have been placed on him throughout his comeback.
After the Mavs game, thoughts naturally turned to the showdown with Howard. Perkins artfully streered clear of the questions.
“Don’t know,” he said when asked if he was ready. “We’ll have to wait and see.”
Perkins also called Howard “a great player,” and noted that the Celtics’ team defense is just as important as any one-on-one performance. Perkins is well aware that while his reputation has been enhanced by his individual battles with Howard, he’s also been on the receiving ends of some tough games and the respect is real.
After holding him to 13 points on 3-for-10 shooting in Game 1 of last year’s conference finals, Perkins was told that the local media was calling on Howard to do more in Game 2. His eyes grew wide as he said, “See, what happens is, y’all gas the man up. Then I have to deal with it.” Howard went out and promptly scored 30 points.
In the 2009 series, Howard averaged better than 17 points and 14 rebounds while shooting close to 60 percent. In 2010, Howard averaged 26.3 points and 16 rebounds over the final three games. It’s not that Perkins is a Howard-stopper; it’s more that Perkins is capable of slowing him down, and more importantly, he’s also willing to take him on without the help of double-teams. That, in turn, helps take away the Magic’s ability to get open looks on kickouts off double-teams.
But there’s more to it than that. One of the Celtics’ basic defensive principles is they don’t mind if a superstar player scores a ton of points. Their philosophy is that great players will be great. Their main concern is making it as difficult for them as possible, and if a guy hits a shot with a hand in his face, that’s life. Celtics coach Doc Rivers has also said in the past that he doesn’t care if Howard scores 30 points, because that just means that someone isn’t taking a 3-pointer.
None of that makes it any easier to handle the assignment, however. Perkins likely won’t have Shaquille O’Neal backing him up, as Shaq is dealing with an Achilles injury. That leaves Semih Erden as the nominal backup center, but look for the Celtics to use Kevin Garnett and Glen Davis in spots as well.
Make no mistake: Perkins loves the challenge. He’s faced down the Lakers frontline and the Mavericks’ Tyson Chandler, but this will be his biggest test to date, as it always is.