8.19.2010

Larry v. Magic: Game 11 (part 10)

1984 NBA Finals Game 4

Larry v. Magic: Game-by-Game Summary

Larry v. Magic: Game-by-Game Media Coverage

Second Shots were Key to Win

Never underestimate the Boston Celtics.

Never pull the blanket over their closed eyes until you've checked their pulse a half-dozen times. Even more. Never say they're finished until you've made sure that every person in the building has gone home, the results have been printed in the newspaper and, say, summer has arrived and one last basketball isn't being dribbled in one last gym in the United States of America.

Never - absolutely never - say "never" when this organization is involved.

Calling down all the memories, lighting all the votive lights from the past, cutting out a nice little piece of tradition from those flags from the Garden ceiling, this Celtics team walked into its own spotlight of glory last night. How to describe it? One more overtime win. One 129-125 stunner over the Los Angeles Lakers to tie this best-of-seven NBA final series at 2-2.

"This may be the first team in the history of basketball to win the NBA title without leading a game during regulation!" a man exclaimed in the Fabulous Forum press room last night.

Almost. How to describe it?

Unilaterally predicted to be on the way toward doom - or at least an early series goodby - against a powerhouse outfit that was running them ragged, the Celtics put up a hand, curled it into a fist and stopped their own demise. Nothing pretty. Nothing tinged with magic. They went into the middle of the Forum asylum and hammered out this win, took it away by force.

They changed the game the same way someone looks in a mirror and changes his outlook on life, giving up smoking and fast living. They did it with stronger willpower.

"Not so fast," they said to the hordes of Laker gazelles.

"Stop and pay the toll," they said again and again and again.

"Make the layup," they added. "But pay the damn price."

Trailing, 68-58, to open the second half - in a series in which the leader at the end of the half always has been the eventual winner - the Celtics brought the game back to hard-rock, small-town-gym basketball. They inserted a hard edge of nastiness into the proceedings. They made this an emotional, tough basketball game.

The picture that characterized the change best was Kevin McHale of the Celtics knocking the Lakers' Kurt Rambis from here to Orange County. Rambis was thumping down the court on one of those Lakers fast breaks that killed the Celtics in Sunday's 33-point loss. He was in the air. The Forum crowd was ready for a fine, genteel explosion.

McHale just leveled the Laker. He arrived with a forearm that would have made him a fine part of the Los Angeles Raiders' defensive backfield. Rambis went flying. McHale went flying. Everybody suddenly wanted to fight everybody else.

"It's a different ballgame now," was McHale's message. "You like to play the other way. Let's see if you like to play this way."

The Lakers didn't like it.

The Magic Man, Earvin Johnson, who had run around the court in the first quarter for 11 points and a star-quality opening, suddenly was slow and hesitant. Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, registering points with that old machine-like ease, suddenly was a human being. He was throwing elbows at Larry Bird. He was yelling at Bird, at the referees, at anyone within yelling range.

The big Lakers' break was gone. The Celtics were going to work.

"How did they win?" you ask. "How, exactly, did they win?"

They won with ugly second shots. They won with Larry Bird, troubled with his shooting all night, forcing his way inside for those rebound shots, then returning to form at the foul line and with that sweetheart 13-foot fallaway with 16 seconds left. They won with Dennis Johnson and Robert (The Chief) Parish - damned so often at the end of the third game that it seemed as if their pictures were on post-office walls - throwing their hearts on the Forum floor and going to work.

Was there ever a prettier play than Parish's steal of the Magic Man's pass at the end of regulation? Throwing his arm behind James Worthy's back. Slapping out as if he were shooing away a pesky fly. Stealing the ball and calling time.

What about the overtime? How about Gerald Henderson, missing two foul shots, then stepping to the line and drilling the next two? How about DJ, unconsciously drilling four foul shots in the stretch? How about M.L. Carr and that celebratory dunk? How about Larry?

Never underestimate the Celtics. Never understimate Larry.

"Sissies," he called his teammates after Sunday's game.

"We have to go to the hospital for 12 heart transplants," he said.

"We're going to win the World Championship," he also said.

He was everywhere as usual at the end of the game. Taking every shot in his bag. Doing everything he could. He was a vision from the olden times. Russell. Sharman. Cousy. Havlicek. Sam Jones, off the glass.

It is repetitive, a cliche to talk about Pride and Tradition and all that other syrupy glop, but what are you going to do? Send home the ambulance. Call off the folks from Waterman's. The men in the green shirts are coming home and the series is tied.

Never - no, never - say "never." Not with these guys.

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