ORLANDO — There are two ways to look at what happened to the Celtics Wednesday night.
The first, and most visceral reaction, is that they are suddenly in a pack of trouble. Kendrick Perkins was ejected after receiving two technical fouls and is in danger of getting suspended for Game 6 now that he has racked up seven technicals during the postseason, triggering an automatic suspension from the league.
Glen Davis and Marquis Daniels both suffered concussions, and their availability also is in doubt. On top of all that, Rasheed Wallace’s back tightened up.
The Magic have made this a series again after a 113-92 victory in Game 5, and now Friday’s Game 6 is looming as the biggest game of the Celtics' improbable postseason run.
“Today was a very tough day,” Kevin Garnett said in the quiet of an almost-empty locker room. “Lot of things going on. It’s not like it’s something we haven’t seen before. We’ve had different situations in our run in the past. None of this is going to be easy. I’ve always said the hardest games are always the first one and the shutout.”
The other way to look at it is that no one thought this series was going to be a walkover. There wasn’t a single prediction that had the Celtics winning in five games; few even had them winning at all.
In the five games that have been played there have been three tight ones and a blowout for either side, which is basically the recipe for a long NBA playoff series. Wednesday’s loss didn’t knock the Celtics out any more than their Game 3 win eliminated the Magic, and they are still up 3-2 with a game in the Garden up next.
That’s the long view, and it obviously didn’t make anyone feel better after a game in which all that stuff happened and the Celtics collapsed defensively, allowing the Magic to shoot 13-for-25 from 3-point range and surrendering 10 offensive rebounds.
“We've just got to come play and we’ve got to be more defensive-minded than usual,” Garnett said. “We’ve got to be the ones that hit first, and I’m not saying that in going out and doing dumb stuff. We’ve got to be firm and get back to the defensive-minded team that we are.
“We’re upset. We don’t take losing lightly. We never have. We have to look ourselves in the mirror as a team, get together and figure this thing out.”
The first thing they have to figure out is, who’s going to be on the floor.
WAITING ON A CALL FROM THE LEAGUE
The NBA reviews every technical foul that its officials call during a game, and league officials said after the game that they will have a verdict on Perkins by Thursday morning.
Did Perkins deserve the two technicals he received? In the immortal words of Clint Eastwood, “Deserves got nothing to do with it.” He got them, and now his fate, and possibly the team, is in the hands of the league office.
Perkins picked up his first technical along with Marcin Gortat. In an eerie bit of foreshadowing, Doc Rivers spoke before the game about the tricky nature of double technicals.
“It’s the double tech thing that has to be resolved,” Rivers said. “Sometimes the officials are just trying to clean the game up, and an easy way to do it is give both guys techs and calm the game down. To me, those are the ones that we have to figure out a better way.”
In the flow of a game, a double technical counts very little. No free throws are awarded and there is no change of possession. However, when there is a second technical, all hell breaks loose.
Eddie F. Rush nailed Perkins with a second technical after Perkins argued a call in his usual manner — arms raised, look of disbelief, etc. What he did not do, according to several Celtics, was curse. Or at least curse at Rush.
No matter. Rush T’d him up and that was it for Perkins. He not only was ejected, he also hit the magic number of seven.
“Didn’t think he deserved either one, but he got them,” Rivers said. “The [second] tech, listen, when you’re arguing, it was awful quick, but they called it. I think Eddie realized once he called it, he couldn’t rescind the other tech because he forgot they had given him the other one.”
Rivers was asked if Perkins' reputation hurt him. This is what he said:
“Well, I would love to answer that, but I’ll let you guys answer that. I would love to answer that. Over the summer, we can have coffee and I’ll answer that, but I’m not going to answer that right now. Perk plays hard. He looks mean. He’s a great guy. I’ll leave it at that.”
The obvious answer is that of course his reputation hurt him. You can’t question every call and expect to get the benefit of the doubt, fair or unfair.
If the NBA rescinds one of the technicals, and the guess here is that it will, then the Celtics will have dodged a major bullet. But this situation won’t go away until they — and it is more than just Perkins — keep a cooler head in these situations. There’s a reason they’re the most T-happy team in the league, and if Perkins is granted a reprieve, he probably won’t be as fortunate the next time.
On the other, more frightening proposition, Glen Davis took an elbow from Dwight Howard in the third quarter and was knocked out cold. He also lost a tooth. When Davis came to, he staggered awkwardly toward midcourt before collapsing.
The team said it was a concussion, but it didn’t reveal how serious the grade. After the game, Davis was surrounded by the hot lights of the cameras and a crush of reporters at his locker. It was a potentially dangerous situation, and trainer Eddie Lacerte rushed over to get him out of there.
As he moved through the crowd, Davis defiantly said, “I’ll be back for the next game. That’s all you need to print.”
It won’t be his decision, however. That will be up to the doctors, and until we know more about the seriousness of the concussion, it’s all just idle speculation.
THE REFS IMPACTED THE GAME, BUT THEY DIDN’T WIN OR LOSE IT
As the NBA rules on whether or not to rescind the technicals on Perkins, it's left with a tricky proposition. If it allows the calls to stand, the Celtics will lose one of their most important pieces in a crucial playoff game. If it rescinds, the league is basically admitting that Rush overreacted and let the game get away from him.
What it can’t rule on is how the officiating impacted the game long before Perkins got the gate. Garnett picked up two fouls in the first six minutes and had to sit out. Rajon Rondo also had two in the first quarter as did Davis, Garnett’s replacement. Wallace, who was one of the most effective Celtics, was called for three fouls in seven minutes of the second quarter.
The officials impact every game they work with how they call the game. It’s just the nature of the beast and it obviously plays into the Celtics hands if there are fewer whistles. There were 54 fouls called, five technicals and 65 free throws, so yeah, the refs had an impact.
But they didn’t prevent the Celtics from closing out on 3-point shooters. They didn’t prevent them from coming up with loose balls, and they didn’t hinder their ability to slow down Jameer Nelson on the pick and roll.
All that is on them, regardless of how the game was called.
“Defensively is where we have to get better and we know that,” Garnett said. “That is our mindset right now.”
WHO’S IN CONTROL OF THIS SERIES?
That, out of all this, is the most important question that arose Wednesday night. The Magic did what they had to do, and there is no question that they are feeling good about themselves.
“They’re playing free and loose and letting it all hang out,” is how Garnett put it.
Stan Van Gundy has made the tough calls. He will not live or die with Vince Carter anymore. If J.J. Redick is making shots, he will play instead of the eight-time All-Star. The staggered pick and roll is working, and they will run it to death.
They feel like they have found their formula, and they also have found something else.
“Tonight, the biggest thing in the game for us, bigger than anything else, is we fought all along,” Van Gundy said. “We have not done a real good job on the boards throughout the series. Tonight we were great on the boards. Everybody will look at the 3-point shooting and all of that, but the biggest thing tonight is that we dominated the glass.”
The Celtics have an obvious remedy to Orlando’s rebounding: Make more shots. But what got them to this point and what will either take them further or cause the whole thing to collapse is their effort.
Both of these teams play hard, manically hard in some respects. This isn’t about effort like it was back in February, March and April. It’s about closing out on every 3-point shot and beating your man to a loose ball. Fighting over and through screens and going down the lane even though Howard is waiting.
“I think the team that has been the most physical has won the games,” Rivers said. “I thought it was us for the first three and it’s been Orlando for the last two.”
Take all your adjustments and boil it down to that. Game 4 was a missed opportunity. Game 5 was a disaster, but it all starts over again on Friday. And for the Celtics, it’s time to make their stand.