ORLANDO - Elbows, concussions, ejections. Oh my.
If there's anything else that can go wrong for the Celtics after Game 5, please let them know now. We might as well get everything on the table.
Glen Davis took an elbow in the head from Dwight Howard under the Magic basket that knocked him down, and when he got back to his feet, he was collapsing again, this time into the arms of referee Joey Crawford.
Kevin C. Cox/NBAE/Getty
The Celtics blew their first opportunity to close out the Magic in Game 4 on Monday night in overtime in Boston, but on Wednesday night in Orlando, the C's were beset by a series of unfortunate events that started seconds before halftime and continued throughout the third quarter. The end result was a 113-92 drubbing in a physical contest that left the Celtics definitely weary, potentially rattled and likely shorthanded for Game 6.
"We are upset and we do not take losing lightly around here," a perturbed Kevin Garnett said after the game. "That is not something we would like to adopt around here. We have to look ourselves in the mirror and as a team get together and figure this thing out."
The Celtics dug themselves an early hole by failing to defend Orlando's pick-and-roll sets effectively, and they too often left the Magic's perimeter shooters wide open looks at 3-pointers. The Magic drained five of their 10 attempts in the first quarter alone, and finished with 13 triples on the night.
But when Kendrick Perkins picked up his second technical foul with 36 seconds remaining in the half (he'd picked up his first just minutes earlier after his hand slipped while he attempted to help his teammate off the floor and the momentum brought his elbow into Marcin Gortat's stomach), he earned an automatic ejection from Game 5, and may have cost himself participation in Game 6 as well. With the two techs assessed on Wednesday, Perkins' playoff technical foul count stands at seven, and unless the NBA rescinds at least one of the techs, Perkins will face an automatic one-game suspension.
"[I] didn't think he deserved either one, but he got them. You know what happens, it's amazing," Rivers said. "We talked about this before the game, the double-technical thing. Perk was bending down, picking [his teammate] up, and got a tech for being around. I don't know how he got that tech. "
As Rivers noted, he'd ironically talked during pregame about his issues with referees' tendency to resort to instant double-technicals when they're looking to clean up a physical game in the early stages before altercations escalate.
Rivers did his best to avoid a fine (it may have been too late at this point given his previous comments) when asked if officials deal Perkins technicals based on his reputation for arguing calls.
"Perk plays hard. He looks mean. He's a great guy. I'll leave it at that," Rivers said.
Already shorthanded in the third quarter, the Celtics took another hit when Glen Davis took yet another elbow from Dwight Howard. The blow floored Davis, chipped a tooth and left him dazed and decked. Davis blacked out on the play, laid out on the floor for nearly 10 seconds before trying to rejoin his teammates. As he made it to his feet to run back up court, he stumbled in a pool of his own sweat and hit the floor again. On his second effort, he made it to his feet but veered off course and collapsed into the arms of official Joey Crawford.
Davis sat on the floor throughout an entire timeout, and was eventually led back to the bench. Later declared concussed, Davis never returned and will undergo medical tests on Thursday before his status for Game 6 is determined. Marquis Daniels and Rasheed Wallace are also question marks at this point, with Daniels blacking out after a collision with Marcin Gortat and Wallace "tweaking his back" in the second half.
How do you begin to prepare for the next game with players dropping like flies?
"It's not a pleasant thought. I mean, Rasheed tweaked his back on that one play," Rivers said. "Baby, I guess, I don't know what kind of test they're going to do with Baby because he's a little delirious half the time anyway, so I don't know how he's going to pass a test. I'm worried about that. But I guess he's going to have to do something for them to clear him. Then Marquis too, so it is what it is."
Howard, meanwhile, is single-handedly dismantling the Celtics with repeated "inadvertent" elbows while simultaneously operating with impunity. Flexing his elbows on every rebound, he's endangering Celtics on nearly every play. Howard did have one of his Game 4 fouls upgraded to a flagrant on Wednesday, but overall, he doesn't seem to catch much grief for swinging the lethal weapons between his biceps and his forearms.
"Yeah, I didn't know that was legal, but anyway, he did," Rivers said of Howard's growing bodycount, channeling his inner Phil Jackson. "But listen, he's a physical guy. We know that, and he should be. That is his gift. Honestly, that's his gift. So he's doing what he should do, and we've just got to do a better job of taking the hits, I guess."
Howard's other trick seems to be colliding with players who've already been fouled; he decked Paul Pierce (who suffered another shoulder stinger) and Rajon Rondo with mid-air body checks after initial fouls had been called and hence didn't draw personals for either play. His presence in the paint over the last two games is changing the series for Orlando, as he blocked five shots and changed several more. The Celtics will have their hands full going forward trying to match his physicality if Perkins is suspended and Davis isn't fit for duty.
Daniels never returned to the contest after his brief blackout, either. While he's largely been out of Rivers' playoff rotation, his absence could mean big minutes for Michael Finley in Game 6 if the C's start running out of options to guard Howard. As it was in Game 5, the Celtics employed the hack-a-Howard strategy with 7:30 remaining in a desperate attempt to shift momentum and you can't rule out similar tactics for Game 6.
Either way, a series that was quietly physical over the first few games has grown to be ultra-combative.
"I do think the team that's been the most physical has won the games," Rivers said. "I thought it was us for the first three, and I think it's been Orlando for the last two."
The Celtics, having gone from appearing nearly unstoppable to highly vulnerable in a matter of days, have two chances to figure it out. But much like their Game 6 against the Cavaliers, the C's are looking at Friday's game to be the closer. The team stayed in Orlando Wednesday night, and was set to watch film at noon on Thursday before flying back (on the team charter, not a MedEvac as you might believe) to Boston for Friday's Game 6 at the Garden.
Of Game 6, Ray Allen told reporters, "This is our Game 7."