Kendrick Perkins said it “felt like the worst day of my life” when he got traded away by the Boston Celtics.
As it turns out, he may have gotten out just in time – and moved to one of the best possible situations.
Perkins returns to Boston with the surging Oklahoma City Thunder to face his former team for the first time Monday night, and the aging Celtics are in the midst of a four-game losing streak.
These clubs surprised the league with their deal just before the deadline last season, with Boston sending Perkins and Nate Robinson to Oklahoma City for Jeff Green and Nenad Krstic. Perkins will be the only one of those four in this game, with Robinson having moved on to Golden State, Green recovering from heart surgery and Krstic playing in Russia.
Perkins, who spent seven-plus seasons with the Celtics and was the starting center on the 2008 NBA championship squad, said he was initially devastated by the trade but felt differently upon arriving in Oklahoma City.
“It kind of felt like the worst day of my life when I got traded from the C’s, from being there so long. But when I got here, it kind of took my mind away from everything, I think, and everything just kind of blew me away,” Perkins said last March. “It was kind of the worst but best day.”
The Celtics’ chemistry was negatively affected by the trade, with Kevin Garnett saying at the time that “you feel like you lost a family member.” Boston was trying to piece together a roster for another title run, but it lost in five games to Miami in the conference semifinals.
Now, it appears the veteran-laden team’s window is closing fast. Another loss Monday would give the Celtics (4-7) their first five-game losing streak and first four-game home skid since Garnett and Ray Allen arrived to join Paul Pierce in 2007.
They lost 97-83 at Indiana on Saturday, prompting Pacers leading scorer Danny Granger to wonder if Boston’s stars are simply too old.
“One thing you can’t battle, you can’t fight, is age,” Granger said. “They all are Hall of Famers, but you get to a point where age catches up with you and it’s hard to compete at the level you once competed at. I don’t know if they’re there yet. They still could bounce back this season.”
The condensed schedule, however, may be making things even tougher for the Celtics’ veterans. Coach Doc Rivers said he had a bad feeling about Saturday’s game just by looking at the schedule, which had Boston facing Chicago on Friday – an 88-79 defeat.
The young Thunder (11-2) are handling the frequent basketball just fine. They won three games in as many nights earlier this month, starting a six-game winning streak that continued with Saturday’s 104-92 victory over New York.
Oklahoma City used a familiar formula, getting a combined 73 points from Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook and James Harden. Durant and Westbrook didn’t even play in the fourth quarter of a game far more lopsided than the final score.
“You don’t go into a game thinking that the starters will not play in the last quarter but it’s always nice,” coach Scott Brooks said.
All three of the club’s offensive stars rank in the top 25 in scoring, while Perkins has provided a strong defensive presence inside.
That was also the key component he brought the Celtics. Boston still wonders whether it would have won another title if Perkins hadn’t injured his knee during Game 6 of the 2010 finals against the Lakers, missing a narrow Game 7 loss.
Now, his new club looks primed for a championship run, leading the Western Conference and looking to improve to 6-1 on the road. The Thunder are also seeking a third straight victory in Boston after winning there last season despite Durant sidelined due to a sore ankle.