BOSTON — Kendrick Perkins spent the last seven months coming back from a knee injury, and on the day he was set to return to the floor he showed up in the trainer’s office with a sore neck.
He was so excited he couldn’t sleep.
Playing for the first time since injuring his knee in Game 6 of the NBA finals, Perkins had seven points and six rebounds in 16 minutes as the Boston Celtics beat Cleveland 112-95 on Tuesday night, sending the Cavaliers to their 18th straight loss.
“It felt good to be on the floor,” said Perkins, who missed 43 games in all recovering from a torn anterior cruciate ligament in his right knee. “I know I can do better. I can do more. … I was a little winded and a little off-key. I can get better.”
It was the Cavs’ first time back in Boston since losing Game 6 of the Eastern Conference semifinals — the second time in three years the Celtics knocked them out of the playoffs. This time, it ended the LeBron James era in Cleveland; he stripped out of his Cavaliers jersey before he got to the locker room, then signed with the Miami Heat as a free agent.
Things have not gone well for the Cavaliers in their first season without the two-time NBA MVP. They have gone from the best record in the NBA to the worst, losing 27 of their last 28 games since Thanksgiving weekend.
“I don’t care about all that,” Cleveland coach Byron Scott said. “We’ll have a breakthrough. I’m not looking at the number of losses and things like that. I’m looking at it game-by-game and seeing if we’re improving on both ends of the floor.”
J.J. Hickson had 12 points and 17 rebounds for Cleveland, which needs a win against Denver on Friday to avoid tying the franchise’s single-season record for consecutive losses. The Cavs lost their last 19 games in 1981-82, then their first five in ’82-83 for an NBA-record 24 losses in a row.
“It’s human nature to think about how many we’ve lost in a row, and whatever record we’ve set. Losing is tough, in general,” forward Antawn Jamison said. “To be where we’re at — one of the worst records in the league right now — that’s tough. We’ve just got to worry about trying to find a way to fix it. That’s about the only thing you can do.”
Pierce scored 17 points in the first quarter to help the Celtics open an eight-point lead. They led by 22 after two quarters and still led 78-59 midway through the third when coach Doc Rivers emptied his bench.
Perkins received a standing ovation when he entered the game with 8:02 left in the first quarter, with his teammates joining in and Robinson waving a towel to encourage the fans. Perkins scored on a layup less than a minute later, drawing another big cheer, and the fans again stood when he left the game for good with about 10 minutes remaining.
“There’s people in the crowd that work hard every day, blue-collar, and Perk identifies with all those people. If you are a guy that works 9-to-5, you’ve got to love Perk because that’s who he is,” Rivers said, noting Perkins also got an ovation from his teammates before the game.
“I kind of welcomed him back to the team. You could see it. They were clapping; they were really excited. And they saw how hard he worked.”
Perkins was limited to 16 minutes — by his conditioning, not by the knee he injured in the finals against the Los Angeles Lakers. Without him, the Celtics lost 83-79 in Game 7 to miss a chance at their second title in three years and an unprecedented 18th in all.
Cleveland radio announcer Joe Tait was released from the Cleveland Clinic on Tuesday afternoon and transferred to a rehabilitation center after undergoing heart surgery recently. … Hickson also had a career-high five assists and matched his career-high with four blocked shots. .. Pierce claimed to “tweak” his right ankle at the end of the game, but Rivers said he thought Pierce was trying to get out of practice. … Of Boston’s regulars, only Rondo played in the fourth quarter.