Mother didn't lead you astray with her words of advice. "Work, boy, work. Work! Work! Work! And work even more." Scripture, too. Heed the Bible and it will pay off. "Thou shalt be rewarded who workest their tails off." Amen, amen, and Knicks be blessed one night. Amen!
Madison Square Garden was in hysteria for this night of persistence paying off. It could have been Minneapolis and the Homer Hankies, Denver and the Orange Crush or the Kingdome and the Seahawks being kings and crushing the Raiders. Noise. More noise. Hysteria. More hysteria. Emotion. Oh, all kinds of emotion.
And those towels. What? Knick hankies waved by the 20,000 frenzied. Or Basket Blankies? A sea of white throughout this corner of Manhattan, so long ignored by basketball, towels waving everywhere.
There is justice that the New York Knickerbockers won this game, because seldom has a professional team in any sport given more of itself. Larry Bird was shut down to only a presence, instead of dominance, Johnny Newman scoring 34 points, many on Bird, and Bird scoring only 20. Patrick Ewing. Pat Cummings. Mark Jackson. Work. Work. WORK!
"We didn't play like we wanted to on the defensive end," said Bird. "We did at times, but once we got the lead (62-54 in the third quarter), we stopped playing. They were playing at home and they were getting the calls."
The Basket Blankies and the 20,000 frenzied souls all had a part in that, too, this game being called more loosely than Sunday's game in Boston. This time the Knicks outscored the Celtics from the free throw line (25-23) and this time the Knicks could clamp the Celtics in a vise without the whistle penalizing them. That was some of it.
"The Knicks knew that," said Bird. "They played basically the same as they did in Boston, but this time they were playing at home and they were getting the calls they weren't getting."
And maybe some of it was that timeout at 62-56, Boston, five minutes into the third quarter. "We had an 8-point lead at one time," said Bird, "and we just quit playing defense."
That was not all. The Knicks were not playing well, and it was here that John Condon, the public address voice older than the last three Gardens, chose to introduce celebrities along courtside.
Bill Murray got up (why isn't Murray a Michael Jordan and Chicago fan?) and waved his Basket Blankie to the throngs, and the throngs went wild. Then Jimmy Buffett got up to wave his towel, and finally movie actor Michael Douglas stood up and waved Basket Blankies from both his fists, like a helicopter gone amok, and the Garden was bonkers.
This is New York?
This is New York.
And the New York Knicks outscored the Celtics, 12-1, after the Celebrity Blankies, the damage getting as bad as 85-75 in the fourth before the Celtics responded.
"We had our chance," said Bird. "We got back into in it."
That the Celtics did, especially Dennis Johnson, who hit two free throws, then picked Gerald Wilkins clean for a solo layup and recovered a loose ball after Ewing klutzed the ball away, was fouled and hit two free throws. Then Danny Ainge hit from the line twice, and the game was knotted, 94-94, with 2:49 left.
Then came two plays the Celtics didn't make. "We had our chance," said Bird. "There was a minute-something left in the game, and I had the ball down in the low post and I had a short turnaround."
It didn't go, and neither did a Johnson pass with 1:47 left and the Knicks now up by 2. Johnson was trapped down near the baseline by the New York press and fired a most uncharacteristic panic pass up near midcourt. The ball was picked off by Jackson; the Celtics were done.
"Even though a lot of bad things happened, we still had a pretty good chance of winning the game," said Johnson. "We just made bad decisions."
Especially on that pass against the trap. "I made a bad decision," said DJ. "It was a decision where I either throw it to Kevin (McHale) on one side or try to find Larry on the other. I focused at that time where Larry was and I didn't see Mark (Jackson) when I made the pass. It was a bad decision by me . . . it was a costly turnover for us, since I think we had the momentum at that time. We were still on the comeback."
"The Celtics are a beatable team," said Ewing, who worked the hardest of them all, "and if we play our game, we can beat them. I'm not ready to go home."
This game was one win that should mean nothing in the long run. But what will linger in the memory of this night are those 20,000 Basket Blankies ("I haven't seen this in a long time," joked New York coach Rick Pitino. "It cost me about $3,300 out of my salary for those towels") and Manhattan again agog over its Knicks.
Yet Dennis Johnson's words also lingered. "We will be back Friday and we will play offense," he said, "and we will play defense. We will play the game."