Celtics' Hand Rises from the Grave

May 31, 1984

The time is 12:04 in the morning. Cedric Maxwell has taken the final inbounds pass from Larry Bird, and there isn't a Los Angeles Laker in sight.

The time has gone down to zero seconds on the big cube in the middle of the Boston Garden. The noise is everywhere. Maxwell has thrown the ball backward over his left shoulder.

Take this one home, darling. Take it home and save it in a special place.

The Celtics are alive somehow, anyhow, tell me how. They defeated the Lakers in a 124-121 overtime grinder Thursday night that they lost a half-dozen times and won a half-dozen more.

No, make that seven more. They won it the final time, too, didn't they?

The play to remember was Gerald Henderson's steal and layup with 13 seconds left in regulation time. Play to remember? Tell me what Celtics broadcaster Johnny Most was saying. Was he still on his feet at the end of his description? Tell me now. Save me the money when the record is pressed -- Henderson Stole The Ball!

"Somebody has to do a story on James Worthy," my sports editor was saying in my ear at the moment that play was made. "Somebody else has to do a story on the fact the Celtics are out of it now, overpowered by the Lakers. Somebody else . . .


This was a play to tack onto the wall with all the other storied plays in Celtics history. Havlicek stealing the ball. Sam Jones pounding home that strange shot. Don Nelson, the other strange shot in L.A. Frank Selvy missing the layup that could have won the game.

The situation was as dire as could be for the Celtics. Dire? They were gone, dead, finito.

The Lakers had a 113-111 lead that looked as big as a 14-0 pounding at Fenway Park going into the ninth. Kevin McHale had missed two straight foul shots -- both back-rim jobs -- and Worthy had grabbed the rebound. The Lakers had the lead and the ball with 20 seconds left when they called the timeout.

What did tht did they have to do? Prance a little? Dance a little? They didn't even have to shoot. They could wait for the inevitable foul shots and go home with the victory. People were leaving the Garden and a certain Academy Award winner in a black shirt and sunglasses was screaming terms of endearment from the loge seats at his favorite team from Los Angeles.

What kind of chance did the Celtics have? None, until . . .

The Lakers' Magic Johnson passed inbounds to James Worthy and James Worthy passed to . . . oops, Gerald Henderson.

There he was, a water sprite on the move, anticipating the pass as if it were ticked out in advance in Morse code. Here he came on the fly.

"A big part of the play was Cedric Maxwell," Henderson said. "He put good pressure on the inbounds pass, forcing Magic to throw it to Worthy. You always want to put the ball in the hands of the big guy in that situation.

"He threw the ball high. It was hung out there for me."

The pass was as good as any fast-break pass the Celtics had thrown all night. The little guard zipped to the basket and dropped in the layup with 13 seconds left. The spectators who were on their way out suddenly had to turn around and find a seat somewhere in the middle of bedlam.

The Lakers, of course, had a chance to win the game now. They had a timeout, a tie score and the ball. And 13 seconds of time to operate.

They never took a shot. They weren't able to throw the ball into Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, the leading scorer of all time and all of that. They weren't able to shake anyone free as the Celtics pressed everywhere. Magic Johnson only had stopped his dribble as the horn sounded. His pass and Bob McAdoo's attempted shot were late.

"Change the story," I heard in my ear from the sports editor. "Scratch Worthy. Scratch the Celtics in trouble. Scratch the new Lakers' dynasty story."

The overtime? How many times can the Celtics climb out of the grave? Dead again, trailing by three points -- 118-115 -- with Kareem churning into his big hook shot. Down by five? Nope, Kareem misses, Larry Bird grabs the rebound and there is Henderson again, flying away.

He scores the basket, is fouled on the play, makes the shot. Tie game. The Celts are alive again.

Go from there to the finish. The finish! The Celtics are dead again. They are trailing, 121-120. There are 14 seconds left. Scott Wedman has the ball in the corner, 13 feet from the basket. Scott Wedman? He hits the jumper.

Tell me this. What did Johnny say about that shot? Was he still standing? How about Robert Parish's steal at the other end as Bob McAdoo tried to drive with eight seconds? Tell me about that, Johnny. Say the words. Robert Parish, bending down, a 7-foot man knocking away a dribble. Robert Parish Stole The Ball! Tell me again, so I don't have to buy the record.

There are finishes . . . and there are finishes. This was one to fold between the covers of the old Celtics' annual. This was one to hang on the wall.

This was one to put on the ark when the nearby river comes by the house at any moment. This was a saver.

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