The clock read 0:07 when Isiah Thomas' three-point launch from the left sideline in the first overtime soared over Kevin McHale's outstretched arms and dropped cleanly through the basket. The Detroit bench looked like a combination of Mardi Gras and New Year's Eve as the Celtics called time out and the Pistons had visions of a two-game advantage and home court on the horizon. It was 109-106, Detroit, and everyone, it seemed, was celebrating on the Detroit sideline, anticipating a commanding lead over the Celtics in the best-of-seven Eastern Conference
"I've been playing these guys long enough to know that it ain't over until the final buzzer sounds," said Thomas, who led the Pistons with 24 points and dished off eight assists. The Detroit coaching staff had one plan. When the Celtics put the ball in play, they'd go for the safe foul with the 3-point lead.
Dennis Johnson's inbounds pass flicked off Larry Bird's fingertips as the Pistons were momentarily stuck in neutral. The ball wound up in Kevin McHale's hands, and the most improbable scenario unfolded for Detroit. First, the Pistons were immobilized. Second, McHale made the shot.
After the 119-115 double-OT loss, Thomas looked at the game's biggest bucket with a sense of humor. "They probably designed it that way," he grinned. And "no," said Isiah, he wasn't thinking about vindication after his three-pointer for his boo-boo in last year's Game 5. "That's in your (the media's) mind, but it wasn't on mine. We lost. We can't dwell on it. We have to get ready for Saturday's game," said Thomas, who blamed his team's poor free throw shooting (24 for 35), particularly in the late stages of regulation and the OTs, for contributing to the loss just as much as McHale's clutch shot and Johnson's steals and game-winning free throws.
"It happens sometimes -- we're normally a good free throw-shooting team," added Thomas. "But we're going home and we play really well at home. Teams have to come into the Silverdome and play extremely well to beat us." Bill Laimbeer, who fouled out in the second OT, said, "We thought we had the game won. We probably should have fouled McHale and, unfortunately, he made the three-pointer. It just happened so fast.
"We played good enough to win and we didn't, but we have to go out now and take advantage of playing on our court." Laimbeer said that after Thomas nailed his three-pointer, "I knew the game wasn't over because they have a lot of good three-point shooters. And then the guy who's not their best three-point shooter happened to can it.
"Hey, the Boston Celtics are a very talented team and they're defending champions in the East," he added. "Granted, we play better at home, but their goal is to win one in Detroit. "It's frustrating at the moment. We thought we should have won the game, but we didn't. But we have an outstanding ballclub and our fans will be excited to see us come home.
"Tonight we played good basketball. I felt even though it was going back and forth, we controlled the game." Pistons coach Chuck Daly said, "Neither club wanted to give in. They ultimately prevailed. When we had the 3-point lead, we wanted to foul but the play broke down and then the officials called (McHale's shot) a three.
"I don't know whether the call was correct or not. I didn't see a replay. But (referee Jack) Madden called it good, and so it was." Daly said the game wound down to both teams trading baskets "and who could get the basket to win the game. Our foul shooting down the stretch cost us -- both in regulation and overtime.
"But they're a great team and we're a good team and we've got five more games to play," added Daly, who unwittingly predicted a seven-game series with that remark. Joe Dumars, who had a chance to win the game after McHale's basket when he fired up a corner jumper -- an air ball -- said the Celtics got back into the game "on a busted play. It caught us off guard a little bit."
It must have shocked Dumars, who never came close three seconds later. "Physically, the Celtics should have been tired because we're younger," said Dumars. "But they have big hearts. They fought back. We've had two hard-fought games and now we have to protect our home-court advantage."