1984 NBA Finals
The series has changed. It has gone from "Footloose" to "On the Waterfront." On a night when Robert Parish and Dennis Johnson rubbed off their golden slumbers, and the proud Celtics willed another overtime victory, Kevin McHale changed the tone of the NBA finals with one open-floor clotheslining of Kurt Rambis.
The Celtics and Lakers are tied, 2-2, and as the teams prep for Body Heat Game 5 in the Garden tonight (9 o'clcok, Ch. 7), the Lakers are thinking about Boston's strong-arm tactics. McHale is being compared to headhunters Jack Tatum and Dickie Noles . . . Rambis Youth is plotting a surprise attack when the series returns to the Forum . . .
Laker coach Pat Riley is particularly unhappy.
"This changes the whole mood, and that's the mood it's going to be for the next three games," Riley said yesterday. "Now it's an ugly situation. " . . . They made a statement with that play. It was like in a gang war when the leaders meet the night before and decide on the weapons. They agree to hand-to-hand combat, then one side shows up with zip guns. "Now we know what weapons are going to be needed. What is ingrained in their team is what you saw last night . . .
Now we know that's the way it's going to be. It's not our style, but that's the way we'll be now because we want to win, too." McHale's foul came when Rambis was fast-breaking on the right wing midway through the third quarter. McHale came across the court at full speed, hammerlocked Rambis, slamming him to the deck. Both benches emptied, but no flagrant foul was called. "It was as blatant a cheap shot as I've ever seen," said Riley. "When we looked at the films last night, it was even worse.
Bob Petit's career ended on a play like that. If one of my guys did something like that and got thrown out of the game, I would have said he deserved it. But you know something, one of my guys wouldn't do that." Oddly enough, the Lakers scored only two fast-break points the rest of the night. Counting Rambis' one free throw, LA scored three fast-break points in the final 29 minutes. "It seemed as soon as the fights began, they became more aggressive, and we might have lost some of our concentration," said LA backup center Swen Nater.
The Celtics didn't make much of the play. It was just Eastern Conference basketball, they claimed. Similar plays spotted the early round series against Washington and New York. McHale said, "It looked a lot worse than it was. He was going one way and I was going the other. I went to grab him, to stop him from scoring. I reached up and my hand came up around his head, and his feet went underneath him. He was upset and had a right to be.
"I just don't think it merits this much attention. I've seen things 100 times worse. Pat's a classy guy and I'm surprised he's this upset about it, but he's probably just using it as a rallying cry for his team." Riley disagreed. He cited a play in which Larry Bird broke in alone against Michael Cooper, Magic Johnson and Rambis. Riley said, "They let him get the shot off. We don't teach thuggery. I don't condone guys going in to try to hurt somebody . . .
We're not going to lower ourselves to the level of a Kevin McHale and his tactics, but I'll tell you what we are going to do - we'll be ready for anything." Red Auerbach's response? "He (Riley) is just saying that 'cause he got beat," said the Boston general manager. "That's ridiculous. Just mention the fact that (Laker center Kareem Abdul-Jabbar) threw those elbows and only missed Quinn Buckner's head by a quarter of an inch. Why didn't he (Riley) remark about that? Jabbar's throwing elbows around like he's crazy.
"Tell him (Riley) to talk to Rambis again. There's no such thing as an easy foul on Rambis. He knocked Max down about six times last night." The impact of McHale's knockdown pitch might be debated for the rest of the series, but there were other significant developments in Boston's 129-125 Game 4 victory:
- Boston mauled the Lakers on the offensive boards. Boston had 27 offensive rebounds to LA's 12. The treetop trio of Bird,
Parish and McHale snatched 20 offensive rebounds. The Celtics scored 32 points on second shots (Bird had 10). LA scored only seven points on second shots.
- Dennis Johnson guarded Magic Johnson after halftime and held him to five shots while forcing five turnovers.
- The Lakers scored only two fast-break points in the final quarter and had none in overtime.
Finally, it should be noted that a Celtic victory over LA hardly qualifies as a major upset. LA's 33-point victory in Game 3 obscured the fact that while playing in a tougher conference, Boston finished eight games better than LA during the regular season. The Celtics have seven players who own championship rings, and the team has the NBA's most feared front line.
The theme of LA supremacy helped the Celtics in Game 4. DJ said, "You guys had wrote us off and were already debating over James Worthy and Magic Johnson for MVP. It kind of got the team a little upset." Boston captain Larry Bird had fueled the abuse, saying the Celtics played "like sissies" in Game 3. The motivation worked for Boston, and now it may be that the Laker coach is trying a similar ploy.
The Lakers know that 2-2 could easily have been a 4-0 Laker sweep, but Riley said, "If you think that way it will drain your energy quickly." Instead, Riley has the Lakers thinking about justice and revenge. ''What they did in that play is like in a gang war, where the leaders meet the night before to decide what the weapons are going to be and agree to hand-to-hand combat. Then they show up with zip guns. ''Boston didn't play it the way people expected it. They played it their way. Now, we know what weapons are going to be used.''
Make sure the Blue Cross bills are paid up. The Lakers say they no longer will be Mr. Nice Guy when they take the floor at what promises to be a steamy Boston Garden. ''I think they (Boston) made a conscious effort to come out and play physical,'' Riley said. ''But that's OK. Everything was fine. But that one particular situation changed the whole mood.'' According to lead official Darrell Garretson, McHale's action was not intentional. ''If we felt it had been,'' Garretson said, ''we would have ejected him from the game.''
McHale said he meant no harm. ''I tried to grab him and hold him up,'' McHale said. 'I didn't body-slam him like it looked on the replays. I didn't mean to hurt him. Kurt's a nice guy. There might be some guys on the Lakers that I'd like to hammer, but he's not one of them.'' But Rambis did not exactly agree with McHale's version of the incident, which almost cleared both benches and could have caused an ugly scene. In fact, when Rambis got to his feet he started to go after McHale but was pushed into the crowd by teammate James Worthy.
''The only thing I'm mad about is that McHale should have caught me,'' Rambis said. ''I thought he should have helped me instead of throwing me to the ground.'' ''I was appalled by what I saw Kevin do,'' Riley said. ''I was even more appalled when I looked at the films. ''I was a physical player, but there's an unwritten rule that when you take a guy out, you go with him. That's the ugly part of it.
''Now, we know what it's going to be. It's not our style but that's the way we'll have to play because we want to win, too. They came across the DMZ with a smile on their face, then knifed you in the back.''