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Bob Ryan

Celtics losing their edge

Signs ominous with 3-0 series lead down to 3-2 after pounding

By Bob Ryan
Globe Columnist / May 27, 2010

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ORLANDO, Fla. — There is an axiom in professional sports that the hardest victory of a seven-game series for a team to get is the fourth. Bruins fans know all about this. Is there now a possibility that Celtics followers will soon be joining their hockey compatriots in a common unthinkable misery? What was once a 3-0 series lead over the Orlando Magic is now down to 3-2 following last night’s 113-92 defeat, and that’s only the beginning of the story.

The Celtics may have lost far more than just Game 5 of the Eastern Conference finals last night. They may also have lost the services of two needed big men for tomorrow night’s sixth game at TD Garden, one by an automatic suspension and one by virtue of a concussion.

Starting center Kendrick Perkins was ejected with 36 seconds remaining in the second quarter after picking up his second technical foul of the evening. It was his seventh technical of the postseason, and the rules call for a one-game suspension when a player reaches that number. But it is possible the technical will be rescinded when reviewed by the league office today.

Far scarier was what happened to Glen “Big Baby’’ Davis, who was injured on a play late in the third quarter. The sequence began with massive Orlando center Dwight Howard trying to score in the low post while being guarded by a convention of green-shirted individuals. Diminutive Nate Robinson came flying in from behind to disrupt the shot (replays showed he clearly hit Howard on the left wrist), and when the play ended, nine men were running toward the Boston basket while one very large young man was lying on the floor.

What happened next was truly disturbing, especially for anyone who was present the night Reggie Lewis collapsed on the old Boston Garden floor in that game against the Charlotte Hornets. Davis was obviously dazed. He made one unsuccessful attempt to get up. He tried a second time, putting his weight on his left leg. Once upright, he stumbled and lurched his way toward the other end of the floor, collapsing at midcourt onto referee Joe Crawford, whom he outweighs by 140 to 150 pounds. It was a surreal scene, for sure.

Trainer Ed Lacerte and team physician Brian McKeon tended to him, as players from both sides hovered. Play was halted for several minutes before Davis was taken to the locker room. Replays revealed that Davis had been the recipient of an inadvertent elbow thrown by Howard, who is rough but not dirty, and who was blameless on this occasion.

“It’s a concussion,’’ said coach Doc Rivers. “I don’t know how bad. I know he blacked out on the floor. 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.’’

Assuming Davis can’t play, and it’s hard to see how he could, this being a more enlightened era than in years past with regard to head injuries, the Celtics would be severely handicapped. Davis has been playing at a very high level, making himself invaluable at both ends of the court. He has used that massive body to great advantage against Howard, and on that basis alone he will be missed.

So, yes, the Celtics are indeed in trouble. It’s not about that nebulous concept called “momentum.’’ It’s about not having the necessary weapons to combat a very good team — the defending Eastern Conference champions, in case you’ve forgotten — in order to get that elusive fourth win that will close out the series. Losing one, and possibly two, members of your eight-man rotation, not to mention two of the three big men you need to defend the league’s best center, is not a pleasant thought for Rivers.

And speaking of defense, where has it gone? The defense that smothered the Magic in the first three games of this series may still exist on video, or in memory, but aside from creating turnovers on the first three Orlando possessions it did not materialize for very long at Amway Arena last night. Either the Celtics have lost their commitment or the Magic have simply figured something out, but the last two games couldn’t have looked more dissimilar than the first three.

The Magic have rediscovered their 3-point game; there’s no denying that. They got five threes from four people in the first quarter, and then finished by making a dazzling 13 of 25, with six people sinking at least one. Here’s a sobering thought: No one can defeat the Orlando Magic if they are raining down threes. No one.

“They are a great team when they get a lead because those threes are easy,’’ Rivers observed. “And I never thought we applied any pressure to them in the game tonight. I thought we made runs, but [there was] no real pressure.’’

The Celtics spent the final 41 minutes of the game trailing on the scoreboard. The closest they could get in the final 34 minutes was 6, at 57-51 and 71-65. At that point Jameer Nelson drilled a three that should have counted as 3 1/2, and that was that.

But what Rivers thought was far more telling was a basket by Matt Barnes earlier in the third quarter. Rajon Rondo had just scored on a nice drive, and the Celtics dug in at the other end for a nice defensive stand. But the Magic controlled the offensive rebound and Barnes knocked in a three. “He gets an offensive rebound,’’ said Rivers. “I think it was five seconds on the clock. We don’t close out, [he] gets the three and gets them comfortable again.’’

The Celtics lead, 3-2, and they’re coming home. Some of them, anyway. They may need a little help from the leprechaun to keep people in Boston from referencing Yogi Berra come Monday morning. No one wants to experience the sensation of “deja vu all over again.’’ But it’s now conceivable.

Bob Ryan is a Globe columnist and host of Globe 10.0 on Boston.com. He can be reached at ryan@globe.com.

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