WALTHAM — Kendrick Perkins never comes off as warm and fuzzy.
With his ever-present snarl, his constant berating of officials and his refusal to back down from anyone, he's one of the NBA's true (and few) tough guys.
To slow down muscle-bound skywalker Dwight Howard, you need an enforcer type.
Atlanta didn't have one and he put on a show in a four-game sweep, averaging 21.1 points, grabbing 13.3 rebounds and shooting an NBA playoff record .844 from the floor.
It's safe to say that mark won't be in jeopardy any time soon. Certainly not against the Celtics, who hope to take a 3-0 lead in their best-of-7 Eastern Conference final series tomorrow (8:30 p.m., TD Garden).
The Celtics went from potential pushovers to potential champions when they started playing Celtic defense, slicing their field goal percentage allowed from .451 (9th in the league) to .437 in the poseason.
Although he can be a liability on offense, Perkins always plays Celtic defense.
"Kryptonite Kendrick'' opened America's eyes by completing shutting down the self-proclaimed Superman in Game 1 (13 points, 3-of-10 shooting, 7 turnovers) but the former slam dunk champ rebounded in Game 2 (30 points, 9-of-13 shooting).
Game 2 still sticks in Perkins' craw. When asked if he took it personally, he didn't hesitate.
"Yes, I'm a defender,'' he said at yesterday's practice.
One of the league's best, although he still doesn't get credit for it. He was just 21st in the All-NBA defensive team voting, behind such gimpy dinosaurs as Jason Kidd and Kenyon Martin.
To keep Howard in check, you have to pay the price.
"It will be physical all series,'' said Perkins. "You can't let him set up shop where he wants to set up shop. You have to take him out of his comfort zone.''
Unlike another Beaumont, Tex., native, country singing great George "No-Show" Jones, Perk always shows up.
He is playing with an ailing right knee and has battled a painful shoulder injury throughout his career.
Glen Davis said, "Perk is the main guy defensively. He's been doing it all year. Everybody (here) realizes what he does. But I don't think others truly understand.''
Then he pointed out if Jermaine O'Neal or Shaquille O'Neal had turned in strong series against the Celtics, Boston would have been in trouble.
But Perk made sure they didn't.
Celtics coach Doc Rivers used the comparison that inevitably comes up that the 6-10, 280-pound is like an offensive lineman in football, guys you never hear about unless they get penalized or give up a sack.
And, much like Perkins, who still is only 25, they like it that way.
Game 1 vs. Howard would be like holding Dwight Freeney or Ray Lewis without a sack or a tackle.
Rivers said, "He never gets credit. Perk takes the most punishment. He just does his job.''
Ray Allen said, "Perk has the toughest assignment. We ask him to stop (Howard) by himself. We definitely rely heavily on him. If he doesn't get credit, he deserves it.''
Just don't ask him to smile about it.
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E-mail Michael Muldoon at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Perkins in the playoffs
Centers' regular-season averages vs. 2010 playoff averages against the Celtics and Kendrick Perkins.
Jermaine O'Neal, Miami Heat
Shaquille O'Neal, Cleveland Cavaliers
Dwight Howard, Orlando Magic