Larry v. Magic: Game 20
June 6, 1985
File this one away with all the rest. Open up the dusty books and run your finger down the index for "Big Games: Victorious" and insert the night of June 5, 1985.
Slide Dennis Johnson's name in there with all the rest, with all the other late-night heroes of the past. Clip out a picture of the jump shot that left his hand with two seconds remaining in the game. Record his happy smile as the ball went through the hole with zero seconds on the fat scoreboard on the roof.
That's right. The Boston Celtics did it just one more time last night.
"All I could do was watch the spin of the ball," Celtics coach K.C. Jones said as he described Johnson's final shot that went through the climate- controlled air of the Fabulous Forum to give the Celtics a 107-105 win over the Los Angeles Lakers and stop just one more party in one more foreign port of call. "I watched the way he released the ball. I watched the spin. That's all I had a chance to do.
"Then I started cheering."
How does it figure? One more time this team was strung out, supposed to be stretched across the tracks and waiting for the train. One more time the entire City of Angels was ready to boogie, ready to go ahead, three games to one, in this best-of-seven series. One more time - gotcha - the Celtics found whatever they had to find in the fourth quarter.
What do these Celtics know? What water do they drink when they absolutely have to drink? How do they summon that concentration, blended with sure hands, that wins a basketball game in a confined number of minutes and seconds? How?
Here they were, dying, dead, gone with only nine minutes to go. The Lakers were ahead, 92-85, and the building was rocking to recorded music and a chant of "We're Not Going Back." How?
Kevin McHale was the one offensive force the Celtics had working. Kevin McHale and Dennis Johnson and that was it. Robert Parish was out of the offense by design and Danny Ainge was missing jumpers and Larry Bird, of course, still was troubled and . . . wait a minute.
That last basket was, in fact, by Larry Bird. It was a stand-up jumper, 15 feet, the exact type of shot he has been missing for a month. It was the shot the Celtics have been waiting to see for a long, long time. Wait a minute.
How did Tom Heinsohn describe the change on television? "He's got that mean look on his face." Wait a minute.
Larry Bird was back.
"You don't know me," he said. "I used to do a lot of this stuff for the Boston Celtics. I used to take control of basketball games when control was needed. I've been away for a while, but now I am around. Here, please check my American Express card."
He was Charles Bronson walking onto the subway to see the transgressors who were making a lot of noise. He was Chuck Norris, himself. He was wearing a blue uniform and riding a painted horse and the sound of a trumpet was announcing his arrival.
He suddenly was here, there and a familiar everywhere. One point on a technical foul as LA played a zone. A killer rebound on a Parish miss, a layup and foul shot. A stolen pass. A runner for two more points. Another stolen pass. Dennis Johnson, fouled by Magic Johnson.
Little more than a minute and a half had passed, but the team that was dead, going, gone, was ahead by a point, 93-92. Hold off on that poolside party. Cancel that order for extra dip. Maybe check that "We're Not Going Back" cheer for a while, too. The game was not only a game again. The specter of Larry Bird raced through this building as if he were Marley's Ghost.
"Sure we were worried about him," Lakers coach Pat Riley said. "You're always worried about a guy like that."
"Seeing Larry shoot like that was like seeing an old friend return," Dennis Johnson said. "We've all been waiting for it and we all knew it would be back. He hit some big baskets for us. He wouldn't say they were big, perhaps, but I would."
The edge now belonged to the Celtics. The score of the game may have fluctuated, back and forth, one- and two-point leads, up and down, a ball of noise on the outside, but the edge now belonged to the Celtics. They were where they live. They were home. A close game. Closing minutes. They had hung long enough to create the situation they wanted.
"Welcome to my parlor," said the spider to the fly. That sort of stuff.
How many times could they have wilted? Trailing by three points after a familiar Kareem Abdul-Jabbar hook shot, a tough shot, a great shot, there was Ainge to hit a jumper to make the score 102-101 with 1:41 left. Trailing by two after a Kareem foul shot and miss, there was McHale hitting both of his foul shots with 1:12 left. Tie game.
There was Ainge again, after a Bob McAdoo miss, hitting another jumper with 33 seconds left. The Celtics led by two. There was Magic tying the game with a lovely rebound with 19 seconds left. There was . . . timeout, dribble, dribble, pass to Bird. Pass back to Dennis Johnson. There was your next entry to the ledger. Bird was dancing up and down. M.L. Carr was waving that towel. Police were holding down some Celtics wacko who had run onto the floor. The crowd was walking out of the building with that dumbstruck feeling. Lightning bolts had landed on every LA head. Stones had been attached to every LA heart.
How do you figure it? One more time.
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