1984 NBA Finals: MAGIC TRICK AS LAKERS WATCH TIME DISAPPEAR
Near the end of the Celtics-Lakers game Thursday night, actor Jack Nicholson, a rabid Laker fan seated courtside, incited the already frenzied Boston Garden crowd by making a choking gesture at the Celtic bench. And when Celtic forward Kevin McHale blew two free throws with 20 seconds left and Boston trailing, 113-111, Nicholson got up and left, sure of victory and, as customary with Californians, eager to beat the traffic.
Lucky for Nicholson his gestures and timing on the screen are far sharper. Those last 20 seconds resembled his great playground basketball scene with the inmates in One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest. As Laker center Kareem Abdul-Jabbar would accurately observe later, "We snatched defeat from victory," and if either team suffered lumpitis in the throat, it wasn't the guys with the shamrocks on their undies.
The Celtics' 124-121 overtime victory, which tied the NBA championship series at 1-1 going into Sunday's game at the Forum, will linger long in Lakerland -- forever if, as it well could, it proves decisive. Two egregious mistakes from two unlikely sources in the last 20 seconds of regulation time allowed the Celtics to escape their second straight home loss, a hole no team has ever dug its way out of in championship series history.
"We let them out of the grave twice," moaned Laker coach Pat Riley, whose hair probably would have stood on end if it weren't held down by a barrel of Saudi crude. "This has never happened to us, as far as I can remember, in the five years I've been here. We just didn't handle the last 20 seconds at all. I never remember our not being able to get a shot off."
"We didn't do the right thing at the right time, and we let it get away from us," said Abdul-Jabbar, whose hair probably would have stood on end if he had any. "We usually don't make fundamental mistakes like that."
And consider the two guys who made them -- Magic Johnson and James Worthy, wmes Worthy, who, except for the boo-boos, were magnificent Thursday night. Together, they played 89 furious minutes, made 21 of 26 shots from the floor and 14 of 16 from the line for 56 points, grabbed 13 rebounds and dished out 13 assists.
And wound up wearing horns.
In case you couldn't stay up for the end of a two-hour basketball game CBS managed to stretch to 3 1/2, here's a look at those fateful, frantic, funny (to the Celtics), fiendish (to the Lakers) final seconds.
McHale misses the two free throws and Celtic Coach K.C. Jones considers joining Nicholson. "I was about to go home, but then I found out I was sitting on the bench as the coach, so I decided to stay," chuckled K.C.
Celtic forward Cedric Maxwell wouldn't dream of making a choking gesture at McHale. Telling him he choked is a different matter.
"I told Kevin he choked," Maxwell said. "But Gerald (Henderson) pulled him off the hook. Those kinds of things never happen to me. If I'd have missed those free throws, we never would have scored a basket. You try to pick a guy up after something like that, but all I could think of was, 'Charlie Brown, you blockhead!' "
On to the heroics of "Hondo" Henderson, now so named because he made the most famous steal since John Havlicek intercepted a pass at the end of a furious playoff against the 76ers in 1965 that led to an equally improbable victory. The radio call of that play by Johnny Most, who has been doing Celtic games since they shot at peach baskets, has been made into a record that can still be purchased in Boston. It's called, logically enough, "Havlicek Stole The Ball!"
With 13 seconds left, Henderson becomes part of Celtic lore, thanks to Worthy.
Taking a pass from Magic in the backcourt, Worthy attempted to lob a high pass cross-court to Byron Scott. But Henderson streaks back, cuts in front of Scott, intercepts and drives for the tying basket.
"He (Worthy) just did a no-no," said Magic, seconds away from one of his own. "You can't do that in that situation."
Worthy was well aware he had blown it about one second after he let the ball go. He spoke of his feelings in sentences and fragments of sentences.
"My vision was not in order."
"My throat went right to my toes."
"I saw Byron wide open. I sort of floated it and Byron was going away from the ball."
"I should have forced the ball into the frontcourt."
"It was strictly a mental lapse."
"I won't be able to sleep well tonight."
"I could hear Johnny Most screaming, 'Henderson stole the ball!' "
Still, it's Laker ball with 13 seconds left and the score tied at 113. Who better to have control of the ball at what he calls "winnin' time" than the Magic Man himself, the game's finest playmaker and a heck of a scorer when he has to be?
The Lakers have two options: First go inside to Abdul-Jabbar, and second, go to Bob McAdoo, designated gun off the bench, for a drive or a jumper.
With Maxwell on him, Magic dribbles and looks. Robert Parish has good defensive position on Abdul-Jabbar, so scratch option one. Magic dribbles and looks some more. The 24-second clock above the basket is turned off as it always is when less than 24 remain in the period. Magic has to look at a clock at the side. While considering option two, he loses track of about four seconds, so when he finally gets it to McAdoo, his shot fails to beat the buzzer.
Magic has dribbled away his team's chance for victory. Maxwell can't believe it.
"I thought it was execution time," Cornbread said. "I was just waiting for a call from the governor, hoping for a reprieve."
What was strange was Magic's rationalization of what was clearly an epic rock. When Dallas rookie Derek Harper dribbled away the final seconds of a playoff game he thought the Mavericks led but actually was tied, guess who was guarding him?
Magic. Did Magic therefore feel like Derek II?
He did not. "I didn't make a mistake. I would rather hold the ball and go into overtime than lose in regulation. You cannot let a man steal the ball and let them have a chance to win."
Letting the last 13 seconds tick off without getting a shot isn't a mistake? Magic, baby, I love ya but give me a break.
The Lakers had two more chances to win in the closing seconds of overtime and failed to get a shot off again, but enough already. "God was on their side and Mother Nature was on their side," Worthy said.
The last delicious words belong to Celtic reserve M.L. Carr.
"I saw Jack Nicholson walk out. You tell him next time I go to one of his movies, I'm going to walk out right before the big ending, just lke he did."
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