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5.02.2010

1988 NBA Playoffs: DJ's Still Money When it Counts

5/14/1988

The playoff script is a familiar one for Celtics guard Dennis Johnson.

Pressure? . . . Nah.

Tired? . . . No way.

When the game was on the line in the second half last night, DJ, savior of so many big games of Celtics past, was simply sensational.

DJ, who shot just 2 for 8 in the first half, canned seven of eight jump shots in the second half, five of them with elbows in his midsection and hands in his kisser.

By the time he was through, Johnson had 23 points, 9 assists, 2 defensive rebounds and a key role in the play that helped the Celts pull away with 9:03 to go.

But DJ, who spoke briefly after the 108-97 win, deflected the accolades. "I think any time any team wins, everybody has to contribute," he said. "Larry (Bird) didn't score that much tonight, but our front line is by far the best in the league. They just can't be in single coverage, any one of them, and when you double down, you leave me or Danny (Ainge) open. The shots have been there for me, and I'm open, so I take them."

According to coach K.C. Jones, "Dennis Johnson was the guy that kept us in there. He hit the big shots. He played the big defense.

"Then Artis Gilmore came in and did the job."

It was a Gilmore-Johnson-Kevin McHale combo that pulled the play of the night.

The Celtics led, 80-73, after a DJ 20-footer, and with the Boston Garden crowd finally getting warmed to the task, Hawks coach Mike Fratello was frantically waving for a timeout as his team raced upcourt.

It was about as fruitless as trying to flag a cab in New York.

Dominique Wilkins just kept coming like an express train into the lane, either ignoring or just not seeing Fratello's signal.

Down the lane went Wilkins -- up went Gilmore's paw -- and the reject was gathered in by Johnson.

As he hit midcourt, DJ found McHale (32 points) in stride for the breakaway layup. When Atlanta finally called time at 82-73, the momentum had swung irrevocably to the home team.

"That broke the game open," said Jones, "and it seemed to explode from there. We gained the momentum and Atlanta faded away a bit."

Johnson was a big part of the fade:

- There was the foul line turnaround to start the final quarter, giving the Celtics a 77-71 lead.

- There was a tough 21-footer from the top of the key with 6:38 to go that got the lead back to 10 (89-79).

- And there was the coup de grace, a turnaround fallaway from the right of the lane with 2:03 left that boosted the margin to 101-83.

When Reggie Lewis replaced DJ -- who logged more minutes (43) than any other Celtic -- 20 seconds later, the crowd gave Johnson a long and loud ovation.

It was also a great night for Robert Parish, who pulled in 14 rebounds, many of them in traffic in the second half with the Celtics holding 4- and 6-point leads.

"Chief took care of the boards," said Jones. "If he's not there, we don't win."

Added McHale, "When he plays like that, it's pretty tough to beat us. We played good, sound defense. They'd call a play and we knew exactly where everyone was going just as well as they did."

Nobody did it better than DJ, who looked like a fresh rookie the way he handled the ball, played tough defense on Doc Rivers (7 for 13, 16 points) and then had enough stamina left to hit the difficult jumpers down the stretch.

"Dennis picked us up in New York, and here he is again," said Jones. "I substituted in the fourth quarter because we had to get some rest. Larry had only about a minute in the first half, and I had to get Kevin and Robert some rest.

"But I kept Dennis in. I asked him if he needed a blow, and he said he was fine. That's all I needed to hear. I said, 'OK, you're in for the rest of the 48.' "

While DJ got his rest at the end, he in effect was the Celtics' constant on a night of sometimes sluggish, sometimes physical, sometimes ugly basketball.

"DJ really kept us in there for a while," said Jones. "He was our quarterback, just like Rivers is theirs."

Jim Paxson put the final exclamation point on his teammate's performance.

"It seemed like in the third and fourth quarters, DJ had a ton of big shots. Some were with the shot clock running down, some with a guy on him.

"I saw it in the New York series and I saw it again tonight. He always seems to do the right things to help you win."

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