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CBSSports.com Senior Writer

With Perkins out, Rivers faces tough, important strategic move


LOS ANGELES -- Kendrick Perkins somehow got himself out of bed Wednesday morning and made it to a scheduled appointment in trainer Ed Lacerte's hotel room. He went anyway, even though he'd already come to grips with reality.

Game 7 of the NBA Finals will have to take place without Perkins, the Paul Bunyan of basketball with those mountainous shoulders -- shoulders that can carry the weight of the Celtics' championship lore but won't do his throbbing, mangled knee any good. He walked into Staples Center on crutches Wednesday, all the way up the loading ramp and to his assigned interview lectern in the corner of the court. His bearded chin resting on a crutch handle, Perkins spoke 20 feet from where his right knee had buckled in the first quarter of Game 6, sending him to the court with a thud heard 'round New England.

"I knew something was wrong, but I didn't know exactly what it was," said Perkins, who got the official diagnosis Wednesday morning -- two torn knee ligaments, the MCL and the PCL. "I couldn't get up on my own. I couldn't walk. My whole leg was hurting. The back of my knee was hurting, in pain. I heard something pop and didn't know what it was. It was painful.

"I'd be lying to you if I told you it didn't hurt, but it hurt," Perkins said. "Game 7 of the Finals. ... probably never get the opportunity again to make it back to the Finals. Physically, I'm doing better than I am mentally."

Perkins didn't have to join his teammates and coaches for the film session Wednesday, didn't have to climb onto the team bus and go face the media. He could've stayed in his hotel room, elevated his leg, and started thinking about what could be a six-month rehabilitation process -- one that may jeopardize the start of the 2010-11 season. But he needed to be here, for his teammates and for himself.

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Schedule and Results

Game 1: LAKERS 102, Celtics 89

Game 2: Celtics 103, LAKERS 94

Game 3: Lakers 91, CELTICS 84

Game 4: CELTICS 96, Lakers 89

Game 5: CELTICS 92, Lakers 86

Game 6: LAKERS 89, Celtics 67

Game 7: 9 p.m. ET - Thursday, June 17 (L.A.)

"It's the Finals," Perkins said. "Last practice of the season. Last game of the season. You just kind of want to be with your teammates and coaches, just be around the guys, especially after a tough loss like [Tuesday] night. You just kind of want to be around, just get that family feeling. You don't want to be in your room all day by yourself. When we lose, we always say when we get to the locker room that we feel a lot better when we get around each other. I just felt like I needed to be around."

So the nation gets introduced to Perkins, with his folksy drawl and his straight-ahead, stand-up style, just in time to say good bye. On a team with three Hall of Famers and an electrifying point guard sky-rocketing into the NBA's elite –- not to mention the attention-starved Nate Robinson, the screaming, drooling Glen Davis, and the foul-mouthed Rasheed Wallace -- Perkins is pretty far down the media's list of interview subjects. Doc Rivers, Ray Allen, Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett provide the quotes. Perkins does the dirty work. Now, he becomes a spectator for only the third Game 7 in the past 17 Finals. If he can find a suit -- he came to L.A. with only one, thinking Game 6 would be the last game -- he'll be on the bench playing the role of cheerleader. Perkins, the physical and emotional cornerstone of the Celtics' defense, will only be able to watch Thursday night as the Big Three era likely comes to an end -- one way or another.

Rivers is contemplating stepping down to watch his college-age kids play sports. Allen is an unrestricted free agent. Pierce can opt out of his contract. Tom Thibodeau, architect of the suffocating defense that Garnett and Perkins have anchored for three years, to the tune of one title and two Finals appearances, is off to coach the Bulls next season.

"With our starting-five unit, we're all tied together," Perkins said. "You probably couldn't find a better starting five that's tied together on a string. We all do stuff on the court to make each other better. I don't like to talk about contracts and all that, but hopefully we can sign Ray back, give the team another shot. But if not, that's the biggest thing we're dealing with -- guys you love playing with, guys you've been to war with throughout playoff series and won a ring with. It's hard. It's Game 7 and you're really the backbone of the defense, me personally, and you can't be out there helping the guys. I love each one of them and I can't do anything to help them. It just hurts."

Which brings us to the biggest and most important strategic decision of a series filled with them: Does Rivers make the convenient choice -- the one solidified when he and his core players traveled to Detroit on a free-agent recruiting visit last summer -- and insert Wallace into the starting lineup for Perkins? Or does he take a risk and do the unexpected by moving Garnett to center and starting Davis at power forward?

"Haven't decided yet," Rivers said on the court Wednesday as he filled in some blanks on his practice chart. "It'll be one of those two, though, I can guarantee you that."

Kendrick Perkins will be forced to watch Game 7 from the Celtics' bench. (AP)  
Kendrick Perkins will be forced to watch Game 7 from the Celtics' bench. (AP)  
On one hand, Wallace has the size and length to join Garnett in combating the Lakers' twin towers of Pau Gasol and Andrew Bynum early in the game, for however long Bynum's own aching knee holds up. This is why the Celtics pursued Wallace so aggressively last summer, and this is the moment when he can earn a season's worth of salary and prove their instincts right.

"I remember going to Detroit in June or July and saying Rasheed is a guy that's going help us during the playoffs," Allen said. "And this is during the playoffs. This is as good as it gets right here. I look forward to it. There's history that's going to be created [Thursday]. Whether it's good or bad for us, we have an opportunity to make that determination."

But Wallace has been dealing with a sore back the entire series, and his stamina and stability as a post defender are in question. Enter the wild card, Big Baby, the drooling ogre dubbed Shrek to Robinson's donkey after the two of them helped the Celtics win Game 4 in Boston. Davis' energy and intangibles could provide an early boost for the Celtics in Game 7, at a time when all seems lost. But his short arms and challenged vertical game could leave Boston more vulnerable to Gasol than they've been the entire series.

Take it for what it's worth, but Perkins sat down next to Davis -- not 'Sheed -- in the film session Wednesday and was filling his ears with Perk-isms.

"I've been talking to Baby all day, all morning, all throughout film session," Perkins said. "I told him he's the most important guy right now, just with his young legs, his finishing around the basket, his defense. He's the key guy. Rasheed obviously is going to play a huge role in it. But I told Baby, if he gets 11 rebounds [Thursday], we've got a pretty good shot of winning the game."

It all comes down to this -- Game 7 of the most-watched Finals in six years, a reminder of the days when basketball had a stranglehold on America's sports summer. Game 7 without the hulking, scowling Perkins, who will have to do what the rest of us have done for two weeks: Sit back and watch. And if he can, enjoy the show.

"It's not about me," Perkins said. "And I don't want the focus to be on me, for my teammates or anybody. I don't want my teammates feeling sorry for me or anything like that. We've got a game."

And with that came a message from Perkins to his teammates.

"No regrets," he said. "It's the last game of the year, period. There's no more games after [Thursday], so you don't want any regrets. ... The biggest thing is, I think we've got to do it together. That's going to be the biggest thing. Whoever's on the court whoever's not on the court, you've just got to do it together."

Maybe for the last time.

Before joining CBSSports.com, Ken Berger covered the NBA for Newsday. The Long Island, N.Y., native has also worked for the Associated Press and can be seen on SportsNet New York. Catch Ken every Saturday, when he hosts Eye on Basketball from 6-8 p.m. ET on cbssportsradio.com

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