10.23.2008

Celtics Earn White-Knuckle Win over Pistons

Green Moves to 14-3
1981-82 Boston Celtics

Warning: if you're one of those cynics who believe that no superlatives are justified in discussing an early December Celtics ' game with the Detroit Pistons, here is your chance to turn toward the stocks, the arts or the editorials. Only superlatives will do in reviewing the scintillating, exhausting, throat-risking, collar-loosening 115-114 Boston triumph at the Garden last night.

That the game was secured by Larry Bird's arching, right corner one-on-one jumper with two seconds remaining is no big deal. The Larry Birds of this world were put on the planet for a reason, and this is one of them. That the shot was necessary at all is the real story, for such was the aggressive, urelenting approach of the visiting Pistons througout this game, and particularly during the second half, that until very late in this grinder it certainly appeared that the Celtics were en route to a rare two-game losing streak.

That the Robin to Bird's Batman in this little tale of basketball grandeur was Terry (People's Choice) Duerod is still another enchanting aspect of this game. Due checked into the game with 6:28 remaining, and the Celtics five points (102-97) in arrears, and before he had completed his night's work he had stuck in three vital jumpers, the last of which, a spinning one-on-one fallaway like any hundred or so he swishes each week during practice at Hellenic College, tied the score at 111-all with 1:34 to play. Given Due's folk-hero status with the paying customers, you can imagine the threat to the Weston seismograph when that last Duerod jumper sailed cleanly through.

The Pistons had done just about everything that needed to be done in order to insure a memorable victory during the first 45 minutes or so, but the cracks came down the stretch. Problems really began when Kelly Tripucka, who somehow managed to evoke simultaneous memories of Tom Heinsohn, Roughhouse Rudy LaRusso and Don Nelson in a magnificent 24-point performance, missed the second of two free throws at the 47-second mark, a miscue that would prove very damaging indeed.

Kelly also would be victimized by two big Bird plays, but, there really wasn't much anybody could do about these shots. The first was a spinning drive down the lane (the move being launched at the foul line by a behind-the-back dribble) for a go-ahead (113-112) scoop shot with 32 seconds remaining. That basket represented Boston's first lead since 70-69, or innumerable Tripucka baseline drives, Isiah Thomas penetration feeds or John Long jumpers before.

Things brightened even more for Boston when Cedric Maxwell (23 points, 8 offensive rebounds) swallowed a Tripucka shot, resulting in a jump ball between Robert Parish and Kent Benson with 19 seconds left. Parish tipped the ball into Detroit's right corner, and Bird recovered it. However, he couldn't stop from going out of bounds and the ball went back to Detroit with 17 seconds to play.

After a time out, the Pistons got the ball to the slithery Thomas (13 assists), and the Point Guard of The Future made his way down the lane to a convention of very tall Boston people, whereupon he slipped the ball to Phil Hubbard for two points and a 114-113 Detroit lead. There were now 11 seconds to play, and Boston would lose two of those before calling time out.

Bird inbounded following the obligatory Celtics' time out, and Maxwell gave it back to him. Larry advanced to the right corner with Tripucka on him. With the clock dwindling down, Bird, who has about three inches on Tripucka, up-faked and connected on what you call your basic pressure shot.

"All a coach can do," explained Bill Fitch, "is make sure the right guy gets the ball. I was right behind him when he shot it and I knew it was all cord. The thing about Larry is that in that situation he's not going to change his shot. The Adam's Apple isn't going to bob."

It wasn't over yet, since Detroit had two seconds remaining. The idea was to lob it underneath to Terry Tyler, always a threat to strangle himself on a championship flag. But the defense was good, and Tripucka's weak pass was picked off by Bird.

This superb affair was one of Johnny Most's ding-dongers all the way, from the 34-32 (Boston) first quarter (during which Mr. Long had 16 of his 30 points), through the 54-53 (Boston half), and through the 92-87 (Detroit) third quarter, right down to the thrilling conclusion. The fourth period was really a gem, it being replete with torrid basket exchanges and some big clutch shots by members of both squads.

That Boston prevailed was a product of Indiana genetics ("Too much Bird," sighed Detroit assistant Don Chaney), suburban Detroit shooting techniques (this was Duerod's finest hour), North Carolina industriousness (Max was The Man in the first half) and overall Celtics' experience. That the Pistons did not win was a matter of youth, not talent. Their day will come.

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