When Marquis Daniels went down early in the second quarter, suffering a devastating spinal cord injury that left him motionless on the parquet floor for several minutes, it knocked the life out of the sellout crowd at the Garden. It threatened to kill the Celtics, too.
But the C's had other plans. They rallied back from a first-half deficit, seized control down the stretch, and held on for a double-digit win over a conference rival. The Celtics won by a 91-80 final — in other words, a 74-56 run after Daniels left early in the second.
"I don't know if it's coincidence, but after Marquis got hurt, we kind of rallied together," Paul Pierce said. "I guess it seemed that way. I'm just glad, because usually when you see a guy get injured, teams use that as an excuse to let down and go through the motions because they're worried about the guy that went down. But it seemed like we were the complete opposite — we fed off of it. It was kind of like, 'Let's do this for Quis.'"
The Celtics were already in enough trouble. Dwight Howard was terrorizing them — he had poured in 12 points in the first quarter on 6-of-9 shooting. Glen Davis was in the locker room, having hit his head, and he needed medical attention too. Plus Rajon Rondo was in foul trouble, and Kendrick Perkins was sitting out, winded from trying to contain Howard.
And then Daniels went down, colliding with Orlando's Gilbert Arenas on a drive to the basket and snapping his neck, tumbling to the floor. In an instant, things had gone from bad to much, much worse.
"I knew it immediately," coach Doc Rivers said. "There was no doubt. Right when he went down, I was already out on the floor, and I think Gilbert or somebody was standing there near him, and I just said, 'Don't touch him.' You could see that it was not good.
"I don't actually know how our players got back their senses that quickly," he added. "Because they all knew it, too."
But the Celtics regained their composure instantly, and it was the difference in the game. They outshot the Magic in the second quarter, 52.6 percent to 30.4. Kevin Garnett poured in eight points, Rondo seven and Ray Allen six. With a 7-0 run just before halftime, the C's took control of the game, and they didn't look back.
It was eerily reminiscent of Nov. 24, the day before Thanksgiving, when the Celtics rallied against the visiting Nets to score a comeback win after Delonte West had broken his wrist. The Celtics have now proven twice over — you can bend them, but you can't break them. When they lose one of their own, they know how to fight back.
"This is a very close-knit team," Pierce said. "One of the closer teams I've been on. It kind of reminds me of the team in '08. It's like when Marquis goes down, that's like your brother. When Delonte goes down, that's like your brother. When you have a family member and something happens to them, you just don't feel right. We're around each other so much — plane, bus, we even go to each other's houses. We've created this bond with one another, and when something bad happens, we all feel for him, and the rest of us try to rally together."
Daniels will recover in due time — team physician Brian McKeon says that with a bruised spinal cord, he'll have to be out at least a month or two. But as for the rest of the Celtics, they've never been better. Sunday was yet another reminder that these C's can fight through just about anything.