Chuck Daly's team now has a 2-1 series lead, with the third game scheduled for the Silverdome tomorrow afternoon. To look at his face and to hear his cautious responses to questions concerning the mortality of the Boston Celtics, you might think he was down, 0-3, with the fourth game scheduled for Red Auerbach's apartment.
"You know the scene in 'Fatal Attraction' when the woman rises up out of the bathtub after you think she's dead?" Daly inquired in the aftermath of yesterday's 98-94 conquest of the Celtics. "That's the Celtics. I swear to God, if we had five wins against them, (commissioner David) Stern would come in and take two of them away."
Of course, he ought to have three victories already, but that's a different story. The series stands at 2-1 for many reasons, but how about Joe Dumars and James Edwards, to name two? Dumars, a docile 4-for-11 shooter in Boston Thursday, was an All-Star level player yesterday. He was essentially left alone by Boston's slowly rotting defense, and he responded by hitting his first six shots en route to a 12-for-21, 29-point game.
Edwards, meanwhile, clinched the Fire Sale Objet d'Art of the Year award with another vital bench effort. Big James, whom the grateful Pistons rescued from the Phoenix Suns' attic, came off the bench in the third period as the Celtics were making a run and scored 9 of his 11 points in the final six minutes as Detroit took a comfortable 84-71 lead into the final period.
"I played with him in Phoenix," reminded Dennis Johnson. "He could always shoot the ball." Once upon a time, Larry Bird could, too. Or was that Larry's statue come to life, a la "Mannequin," last Sunday against the Hawks? Larry flopped a 6-for-17 effort on top of the 8-for-20 and 6-for-20 clunkers he had against Detroit in Boston. True, he led all rebounders with 11 and all assist men with 8, but the Celtics won't go very far with Bird shooting 35 percent (20 for 57).
"He's a time bomb," insists Daly, who knows that yesterday Bird actually did look better than he had in Boston and that he had three or four excruciating in-and-out shots in the treacherous Silverdome. "We're not taking any credit." Boston played its best basketball in the first four minutes of the game, when good ball movement and some tough shots in the face of Detroit's sound defense gave it a 16-11 lead.
The Celtics also looked very good during a two-minute stretch of the third period (closing within 6 at 70-64) and during a 2 1/2-minute burst in the final period (again closing within 6 at 90-84). It was the other 39 1/2 minutes they had trouble with.
Dumars was the early assassin. The third-year guard took advantage of rugged picks set by Bill Laimbeer and a slow-to-react Boston defense that left him open whenever either Adrian Dantley or Isiah Thomas had the ball. Dumars drilled three consecutive jumpers to give the Pistons a 17-16 lead, and when Kevin McHale (32) responded, Dumars salvaged a badly broken play (Bird had poked the ball away from Dantley) with a three-pointer (20-18). There would subsequently be four ties (20, 22, 27 and 29), but no more lead changes.
Edwards, the new Motown folk hero, made his big contribution after the Celtics had chopped a 14-point deficit (70-56) to 6 at 70-64. At this juncture, Bird agonized as a jumper spun out, leading to a three-point play by Thomas at the other end. McHale
missed a short hook, leading to a Detroit fast break. Vinnie Johnson missed, but in the ensuing ferocity of the rebound action Edwards picked up a loose ball and threw up a desperate prayer that the Hoop God answered in the affirmative. Better yet, a foul was affixed, and the Celtics had slipped from 6 down with the ball to minus-12 (76-64) in the span of a minute.
Edwards' contributions cannot be exaggerated, since Rick Mahorn is getting more feeble by the day because of his disc problem and Laimbeer had a very tame offensive day (0 for 3, 2 points). "James didn't play much against Chicago," points out Daly, "but I thought he would in this series because against Boston you need all the big people you can get."
Boston could have used another big guy; that's for sure. Robert Parish was a non-factor after picking up three fouls in the first six minutes, and there were no Edwardses available on the Boston bench. The Pistons even managed to survive a 14-point last quarter because the Celtics weren't offensively potent enough to make
"Nobody's gonna beat anybody shooting 40 percent," said McHale, who had 31 of his 32 points by the end of the third quarter. "I don't care what kind of defense you play, or how you do on the boards, you just aren't gonna beat anybody shooting like
that." And forget about fast-break layups, of course. The Celtics run out of rebounds about as often as David Letterman hosts "Meet The Press."
They get another shot in the Dismal Dome tomorrow. They've been down this way before. Think of the 1984 LA series. But they were a bit (ahem) younger, then, too.