All ye Celtic faithful ticket buyers, televiewers and newspaper readers alike -- had better appreciate who you've got, because, as the beer commercial says, "It doesn't get any better than this."
While fans in other locales must settle for, at best, well-played basketball, you people are blessed with a team to root for that currently possesses every technical and spiritual quality known to the sport. You back a quality team good enough to withstand an opponent shooting 70 percent (30 for 43) in the first half. You back a team with unmatched offensive balance, a team that is now homocidal from inside or outside. You back a team with enough quick-strike capability to come from 83-77 down against a club riding a 10- game winning streak to respond with a spectacular 49-18 run in the next 16 minutes. You back a Celtics ' team that crafted a 129-109 destruction of a Detroit Pistons' array that, according to its own testimony, played a better game than in any of its 10 consecutive victories.
Until the Celtics demanded control of this game midway through the third period, the spectators had every reason to believe they were witnessing a potential epic. The Pistons are a known offensive quantity, but in the first half they exceeded even their own lofty standards by shooting 70 percent from the floor en route to a 65-62 halftime lead. They exploited Boston's doubling- up strategy with alert round-the-horn passing, the prime beneficiary being Kelly Tripucka, who banged home 7 of 9 from the floor. Throw in excellent transition shooting (25 fast-break points in the half to Boston's 6) and the usual Isiah Thomas show window creations, and the Pistons were putting on a classic offensive display.
But Boston remained unfazed. The teams swapped leads 23 times in the half, including one dazzling stretch of 13 consecutive second-quarter exchanges before a Tripucka sneakaway following a steal put Detroit up, 63-60.
The Pistons remained the aggressors, until, with 6:20 to play in the period, and an 80-77 lead, they took off on a fateful fast break. The ball wound up in the hands of Kent Benson, who demonstrated his best "Saturday Night Fever" dance step before dunking the basketball. Amazingly, no travel was called. Not so amazingly, coach K.C. Jones protested to Darell Garretson, who responded by nailing K.C. with a technical that was sunk by Tripucka. The Pistons would have fared better had Garretson made the call on Benson, because now the Celtics were angry and the crowd was really in the game.
It's melodramatic, perhaps, but true. That incident turned the game around. Because here was Larry Bird (35 points, 9 rebounds, 7 assists) powering inside for a moose of a layup. And here was Danny Ainge (a career-high 27) taking an inside-out feed from Bird and scoring two. Here was Dennis Johnson blasting inside for two. Here was Kevin (Mr. Awesome) McHale spinning inside for two of his casual 25. Finally, here was Bird swishing two free throws for a non-refundable 85-83 lead.
The final tie (87-87) was broken by Greg Kite on a follow-up inside power move, a bucket that initiated a great 11-2 run in the final 2:40 of the period. By this time the Pistons had exhausted their quota of jump shots, and the Celtics were on a psychic high, thanks to a play-off-style crowd response. With only a Bill Laimbeer jumper interrupting the flow, the Celtics rode McHale's unstoppable post-up moves (Hey, he even threw in a facing jumper), an Ainge jumper and a technical foul shot (on Laimbeer) to a comfortable 98-89 three-quarter lead. That made it 21-6 following Benson's Travolta imitation.
On the first anniversary of his 56-point game against this same Detroit team, McHale proved to be a major menace again, shooting 10-for-10 from the floor. "The answer is to draft some 6-11 guy of your own," said Detroit coach Chuck Daly. "An ordinary defense won't do."
And while Detroit could offer only that one-dimensional jump-shooting halfcourt offense, the Celtics were tormenting the Pistons with everything from McHale post-ups to Ainge mortars (2 for 2 from Birdland) to Johnson's power drives to Bird's assortment of offensive tricks. La Difference in this one was Ainge, who shot 11-for-18. "You've got to give something against them," shrugged Daly.
The rampage continued for 10 minutes of the fourth period, until, with 2:14 left, a Sam Vincent driving fast-break three-pointer gave Boston its peak lead, 126-101. The Celtics had changed a potential thriller into one more stat-fattener.
But remember this: "I think we played our best game in this stretch," said Vinnie Johnson. And this: "We probably played better than in the last 10 games," confirmed Tripucka. "And this: "We played as well as we can," said Daly.
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