It doesn't appear that either basketball skills or medical science will be able to help the Boston Celtics cope with the Los Angeles Lakers in the remainder of the best-of-seven series. Game 3 will be played Sunday at Boston Garden.

Only two teams, the 1969 Celtics and the 1977 Portland Trail Blazers, have come back to win a championship after falling behind, 2-0; no team has won a series after having lost the first three games.

"We are very, very down," Boston's Larry Bird said after Thursday night's 141-122 loss, the second straight rout at the hands of the Lakers. "We know from previous experience that when we're up, 2-0, we have no doubt we'll go on to win it. We just have to go home, regroup and try to find out where the team stands. There's no question that right now we're not playing very well."

"We were forced to battle back just to get here in the first place," Celtics General Manager Jan Volk said. "It's been that kind of season; I know no one's feeling sorry for us and I'm not asking for sympathy, but the fact is, it's been a difficult year for us."

The Celtics went through the regular season basically using just five men, playing without forward Scott Wedman and center Bill Walton, two key men from last season's title team who were lost to injury. In the playoffs, guard Danny Ainge, center Robert Parish and forward Kevin McHale all have suffered injuries.

McHale's injury has likely been the most costly. The all-star suffered a sprained right ankle late in the regular season and compounded the problem against Chicago in the first round of the playoffs. He also developed a stress fracture in the same foot against the Bulls.

Although he admits to being in pain, McHale has continued to play. Because Boston has such little depth, McHale has played in 19 playoff games so far, and clearly they've taken their toll.

How heavy a toll remains to be seen, but questions have been raised about the wisdom of playing with such an injury and whether McHale could be jeopardizing his future by risking permanent damage.

Originally, it was believed McHale would recover if the leg was simply placed in a cast after the season. Now, surgery will be required, with McHale having to spend at least three months in a cast afterward.

Since the playoffs began, McHale has seen at least four specialists, the last being Tony Daly, a Los Angeles physician who was largely responsible for helping Walton resume his career in 1981 after a series of foot injuries.

"{McHale's} not jeopardizing his career as such. It's not a matter of him losing a leg," Silva said. "It's a matter of mobility being lost and his effectiveness as a power forward."

"If I thought I were threatening my career, I wouldn't be playing," McHale told the Boston Globe Wednesday. "We've taken a long look at this thing and I'm content with the fact that I'm going to play on it."

Still, he has not been close to his pre-injury form. For much of the regular season, McHale, the league leader in field goal percentage, enjoyed a widespread reputation as the toughest man in the NBA to match up against and therefore was considered one of the league's most valuable players.

Since his injury, he has generally been unable to maintain offensive position, making his variety of low-post moves largely ineffective. Neither is he capable of moving on defense to block shots, a category in which he finished seventh in the NBA.

But with the Lakers fast-breaking for easy basket after easy basket, there haven't been very many opportunities for McHale to block shots in the half court, anyway. While certainly being capable of giving them a harder time, it's doubtful the Celtics would be able to win the series against the Lakers even with a full complement of healthy players. That's something Los Angeles Coach Pat Riley feels has been somewhat overlooked in all the talk about Boston's injuries and fatigue.

"You look at the box scores and you see that they're using nine players. K.C. {Jones, Boston's coach} is using his bench; he gets his guys their rest," Riley said. "It's just that the two guys that are really hurting for them, McHale and Parish, they can't replace."

But, as Volk said, Riley has no pity for the Celtics, although he can empathize. After all, it was his team that was swept aside by Moses Malone, Julius Erving and the rest of the Philadelphia 76ers in four games in the 1983 finals.

"That was Doc's year, and it was the coming of Moses to the East, which made it the bully conference of the planet; there was no way they were gonna lose that year," Riley said. "But we were very hurt, too. We'd lost James Worthy in the last week of the regular season {broken leg}, Bob McAdoo in the last game of the Western Conference finals {torn hamstring} and Norm Nixon {separated shoulder} in the first game of the championship series.

"That series, we were in every game. They were all decided in the fourth quarter. We'd be right there and then, 'Wham!,' they'd have that four- or five-minute spurt and get it going to win."

In this series, the only spurts have belonged to Los Angeles, and there is little reason to think that won't continue.

"I liked us in the first two games," said Lakers center Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. "I don't want to say we've got it, but we're certainly in the driver's seat."