BOSTON -- Even as he stepped onto the floor to a rousing ovation from the TD Garden faithful, Kendrick Perkins wasn't back. Even after he muscled in an and-1 layup a minute later, his first points of the season after spending the past six months rehabbing from offseason ACL surgery, Perkins wasn't quite back.
No, it wasn't until he stood in front of the Boston bench fuming at referee Scott Twardoski, displaying his familiar scowl while barking about the lack of an over-the-back call on a putback by J.J. Hickson early in the third quarter that Perkins was officially back.
"He almost ran after the guy that one time," Boston Celtics coach Doc Rivers recalled. "And I was thinking, 'You've got to be kidding me. Perk's back.' When he did it, the whole bench started laughing, saying, 'Perk's back.'
"He's going to get a tech soon. I think because he started so late he can't get to the [technical foul limit]. So I think we're safe there because at the end of the day Perk's going to be Perk."
Perkins admitted after the game he was actually gunning for a technical. The seven points on 3-of-5 shooting, the six rebounds and the three assists over 17 minutes, 10 seconds of action were all nice. But Perkins knew getting T'd up, especially in a lopsided game that saw the Celtics emerge with a 112-95 triumph over the Cleveland Cavaliers, would serve as the unofficial welcome mat for the 2010-11 campaign.
"I was trying to get a tech to show everybody I was back," Perkins said. "But it's cool."
It gives Perkins something to shoot for Thursday night when he joins the Celtics in Portland for the first stop on a four-game western road trip he figured to be a mere observer on. Instead, there's a chance he could work his way back into the starting lineup during the span.
Why not? He's exceeded expectations at every turn. Earlier this month, Perkins pegged a Feb. 4 visit from the Dallas Mavericks as his target return date. But after bettering even his own lofty goals while returning to full-contact exercises 10 days ago, Perkins lobbied Rivers on Monday to push up that date by 10 days, declaring that he could help fill a void in Boston's depleted frontcourt, which is without Shaquille O'Neal (hip) and Jermaine O'Neal (knee).
Rivers laughed it off. He told reporters after Monday's practice that he wasn't going to listen to Perkins and that Feb. 4 remained the target date.
Then team trainer Ed Lacerte and team physician Brian McKeon followed Rivers into his office and Boston's helmsman knew he was going to have to change his stance.
So there was No. 43, checking in with 8:02 remaining in the first quarter as the Garden crowd serenaded him with a prolonged standing ovation. As Perkins took his spot on the baseline, he raised an arm to salute the fans. He later admitted it was an emotional moment following the six months of hard work he logged after tearing his right ACL in Game 6 of the NBA Finals.
"He is always the guy that has been the hard-hat, lunch-bucket worker on the team," Ray Allen said. "He just always has a great, hard-working mentality when he is out there on the floor."
Said Rivers: "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 9-5, you've got to love Perk, because that's who he is."
Perkins didn't just work 9-5 on Monday; he clocked some serious overtime. He made a late-night voyage to the team's practice facility in Waltham at 10 p.m., a regular occurance during his rehab, hoping to squeeze in one last workout before his return (and maybe burn off enough energy to allow him to sleep despite rookie-like butterflies).
He stayed at the facility for three hours before finally leaving at 1 a.m. Back home he simply tossed and turned on the couch all night, getting limited shut-eye and giving himself a stiff neck in the process.
"It's probably why I'm tired now," Perkins said after logging time in the weight room following Boston's win. "I couldn't sleep last night. I couldn't wait. I was up all night. It's all good."
Perkins said he surprised himself with how well he moved on the floor at times Tuesday night. He had an and-1 layup at the start of shifts in both the first and third quarters (and lamented that he missed the free throws, which was pretty much the only practicing he was able to do for the first few months of his rehab).
He looked a step slow defensively at times and was disappointed he didn't have a blocked shot. But he knows that timing and rhythm will come with more floor time. In fact, after blowing through Rivers' 16-minute limit, he lobbied unsuccessfully to stay on the court for even more action in the fourth quarter.
"When [Rivers] came and got me in the fourth [quarter], I really wanted to stay out there just to keep working on my rhythm and get as much game time as I could," he said.
Perkins tried unsuccessfully to blend into the scenery, hoping Rivers would forget to sub him, then even tried to use Glen Davis as an excuse to stay in the game.
"I'm 6-10, 275; I'm too big to try to hide," Perkins joked. "I turned my back and told Baby to raise his hands and say, 'I need a blow.' But it's all good.
"Me and Doc might have to fight over [his playing time]. If I'm feeling all right, I might tell him to leave me in. I know they're looking out for me at this stage. Doc, Eddie, Dr. McKeon, [strength and conditioning coach] Brian Doo -- they just want the best for me. Whatever they say goes. I'm going to keep slowly trying to build up, take these next two weeks to try to get into the best game shape and go from there."
Yes, Perkins is back. The technical foul isn't far behind. Then the only return on his mind will be getting back to the NBA Finals.
Chris Forsberg is the Celtics reporter for ESPNBoston.com. Follow him on Twitter.