Larry v. Magic: Game 12 (part 2)

1984 NBA Finals Game 5

Larry v. Magic: Game-by-Game Summary

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

Ugly, Stubborn, but Still Standing

The ugliness of the Boston Celtics has become their most endearing quality. The ugliness. The obstinacy. The refusal to fall. The month is June. The opponent is this bunch of well-dressed, Brylcreemed dandies. The accumlated statistical numbers and the poundage of the highlight- film adjectives - not to mention the ready opinion of half the Western world - all say the Los Angeles Lakers should be having a toast of champagne this morning and preparing for a fine afternoon of adoring glances on any of a number of Southern California beaches. The Celtics should be discussed only in the past tense.


"Everybody else had us down and out," Celtics forward M. L. Carr said in the late stages of Wednesday night after this team had tied this best-of-seven series at 2-2 with a 129-125 overtime win. "That was their mistake. We knew we were only down. We're never out."


Without a far stretch of the imagination - without a bad Magic Johnson pass here and another bad James Worthy pass there - this entire business would be finished. Four games and out. Now it is tied, the two teams moving to that hot old gym on Causeway street. Anything not only can happen, anything probably will. The script seemingly has been stolen from Sylvester Stallone's front mailbox and converted into roles for tall people. So we make Apollo Creed into a basketball team, see? We have him dance and have a good time, wow the crowd, light the lights for all the early rounds. Then we get Sylvester working. A few good body punches to slow old Apollo down. A couple of breaks? All right, a couple of breaks, but mostly breaks because Sylvester is coming, always coming, looking through the blood and never stopping. Sylvester's on the way! The fight goes into the late rounds and who knows what happens?

Who knows?

The straight-ahead plod of the Celtics through the first four games has been their strength. They have survived Kareem Abdul-Jabbar's big afternoon after a migraine. They have survived a 33-point loss and an afternoon of derision in the Fabulous Forum. The Go-Go's have sung at 'em, Dancing Barry has danced at 'em, James Worthy has walked on the very air in front of their faces. The Celtics have kept standing. Somehow.

How have they done it? Their shooters haven't shot well. Their fastest runners have been outrun. Their familiar, used-forever pattern of basketball has been taken away from them and run straight across their foreheads. How have they stayed even? If either team should have been frazzled at the end of the two close games, worried in the overtimes that "This is our chance, our only chance," it should have been the Celtics. They were the ones who didn't have a chance at all in the other two games. How have they taken these two? How?

Every basket seems to be a Black & Decker special. Pounded in. Jack- hammered. Power-tooled with a lot of noise and flying bits of debris. The Lakers score on magic-carpet rides, floating and flying with oohs and aahs. The Celtics score on a jump shot by Dennis Johnson, followed by a rebound by Dennis Johnson, followed by a lay-up on the second rebound by Robert Parish. The Lakers score on the graceful, machine-like, derrick hook by Kareem. The Celtics score on a Larry Bird shot after he makes two head fakes and receives seven slaps from surrounding Lilliputians before landing on the floor at the end. Holding his lip.

The only clear-cut advantage the Celtics have had in their two wins has been their passion. They have out-wanted the Lakers. Out-hustled the Lakers in the end. Even before the second game of the series, Lakers coach Pat Riley had suggested - half as a joke - that he was going to have his team come out for warmups wearing construction hard hats against the workmanlike, belligerent Celtics. What would he suggest now? Asbestos suits? Richard the Lionhearted armor? The passion has gone up a long, long way since then.

"How badly do you want to win this thing?" the Celtics seemed to ask the Lakers in the third and fourth quarters and the overtime on Wednesday night. "How much does this mean to you? This is what this means to us." The nastiness was a Celtics nastiness. The incidents that unfolded, one after another, with Kurt Rambis on the floor and with Magic Johnson and M.L. Carr shouting, with Kareem Abdul-Jabbar grumbling at Larry Bird were a sign of how this series had changed. For most of the first three games, for all of the first half, it was a Lakers glide, a showpiece for their talent.

For the last half of this game, it was deep-in-the-pit basketball, Celtics basketball, grunt and groan, basketball played with a chip on every available shoulder. There seemed to be a movement to the entire series in that half. The same movement that happens in a championship fight. The dancing was finished, the glamour gone. The fair-haired champion - or certain champion-to-be - was switched to the defensive. The series was switched to this new, coast-to-coast pattern of possibly three games in six days with three flights across the country in-between. The heat came into the building and into the bodies.

The Lakers may recover.

The Lakers may not.

The story of stories so far, though, is that the Celtics are still standing.

And even on rounds.

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