LOS ANGELES — Kendrick Perkins’ season ended in Game 6 of the NBA finals when he was helped off the floor and into a waiting wheelchair.
Rajon Rondo showed up for work Wednesday with a large bandage covering his chin, joking that his injury came in a locker room fight with Pau Gasol.
Yep, the Boston Celtics were beaten up in their first chance to clinch an 18th championship.
But the Celtics, minus their injured backup center, vowed they will play a whole lot differently Thursday in their fourth Game 7 in three years.
Kevin Garnett said their strategy will entail “not being the one to be hit, but hit first and stand firm and consistent throughout the game.”
They stand bigger and taller with Perkins, but coach Doc Rivers confirmed the rugged interior defender would miss the game because of sprained ligaments in his right knee. Perkins was hurt midway through the first quarter of Boston’s 89-67 loss on Tuesday night when he landed awkwardly after battling under the hoop with Lakers center Andrew Bynum.
Rasheed Wallace or Glen Davis likely will start in Perkins’ place.
“It’s like I told our guys this morning, somebody has a great opportunity tomorrow, and that’s the way we have to look at it,” Rivers said.
Perkins said he was in pain and was told that he would miss the remainder of the season if his injury happened in December. Yet he brought himself to the Staples Center on crutches and took his place at the podium to meet with the media.
“Last practice of the season, last game of the season, you kind of just want to be with your teammates and coaches,” Perkins said. “Just be around the guys, especially after a tough loss like last night where you just kind of want to be around, just get that family feeling. You know, you don’t want to be in your room all day by yourself.
“I know when we lose, we always say when we get to the locker room, we feel a lot better when we get around each other. So I just felt like I needed to be around.”
The Celtics would prefer he was patrolling the paint after they were pounded 52-39 on the backboards in Game 6. But they are confident the undersized tandem of Davis and Wallace — or whoever they use — will battle the Lakers’ bigs.
“We’ve got Big Baby, we’ve got Rasheed, and if possible we’ve got Shelden Williams,” Paul Pierce said. “We’ve got guys capable of coming in there. All we ask is one game as hard as you can go for tomorrow. We have guys that can fill in and get the job done.”
Davis was the star of Boston’s Game 4 victory that evened the series, when he scored half of his 18 points off the bench in the fourth quarter. But he hasn’t scored in either of the last two games, though he did grab nine rebounds Tuesday.
“I think Baby the last couple games has been doing way too much thinking,” Rivers said. “Baby is an instinctive player. When he starts playing with thought, you know, that’s not what we want.”
Wallace is another wild card. He provides valuable big-game experience, having played in the NBA finals’ last Game 7 with Detroit in 2005. But he is fighting a bad back, and at this stage of his career prefers to play out on the perimeter.
Wherever he sets up Thursday, he’ll need to be more effective than he was Tuesday, when he missed all seven shot attempts, six from 3-point range, in 17 minutes.
“We’re going to need him big,” Rivers said. “His experience will help.”
The Celtics’ roster is littered with recent do-or-die game experience. Boston survived Game 7s in the first two rounds of its run to the 2008 championship before its quest for a repeat ended on its home floor in the second round last year against Orlando.
“We do have a group that a lot of the guys have been in them: Rasheed with Detroit, and our group together, Michael Finley sitting on the bench on our team, he’s been through them, as well,” Rivers said. “That’s one thing we do have is a lot of guys that have been in these type of games.”
So they know what Game 7s take, and toughness is a key part of it. Perkins won’t be able to provide it, but the Celtics are certain it will come from somebody that replaces him.
“They bring a different type of toughness,” Pierce said. “But hey, you know, these guys are ready. I mean, one game, and they’ll be ready.”