Henderson Did More than Steal a Pass
May 31, 1984
Gerald Henderson is not a licensed physician.
But Boston's spunky lead guard conducted emergency open heart surgery here last night during a 124-121 overtime victory over the Lakers.
Just when it looked as if the Celtics were about to be administered last rites in Game 2 of the NBA Championship Series, Henderson gave Boston a big lift when he intercepted a pass from forward James Worthy and scored on a driving layup to tie the game at 113 with 13 seconds to play and force a five-minute overtime.
The ink was hardly dry on the final box when the Boston media started comparing Henderson's theft with the classic steal by John Havlicek in Game 7 of the 1965 NBA semifinals against the Philadelphia 76ers.
''I could almost hear Johnny Most saying, 'Henderson steals the ball. Henderson steals the ball,' '' Henderson said, alluding to the Celtics' notorious play-by-play announcer.
Canonization might not be imminent, but at least Henderson can take off the goat horns for now. He had been the object of massive criticism all week after Celtics coach K.C. Jones decided to match him up defensively with Lakers 6-9 All-Star guard Magic Johnson in Game 1.
The Magic man took advantage of that mismatch again, scoring 27 points, grabbing 10 rebounds and contributing nine assists. But this time, Henderson emerged as the local hero.
''We weren't going to panic at the end of the game,'' he said. ''We knew someone would come up with a big play for us, and I was fortunate enough to get the steal and make the basket to tie it up.
''We're going in there with the idea of getting one game.''
Henderson's steal gave the Celtics new life as this series enters Game 3 Sunday afternoon at the Forum in Inglewood, Calif.
''We're going out there with a lot of confidence,'' Henderson said. ''We feel we're back in it now and we know they haven't played all that well at home in the playoffs.''
Henderson's heroics occurred after LA had taken a 113-111 lead when Magic Johnson made a pair of clutch free throws with 35 seconds left after being fouled by Dennis Johnson.
The personal was DJ's sixth and Jones replaced him with Henderson.
Boston forward Kevin McHale had a chance to tie the game with 20 seconds left after he was fouled in the act of shooting by Bob McAdoo. But McHale, uncharacteristically, bricked two free throws, Worthy grabbed the rebound and the Lakers looked as though they might run out the clock.
But Los Angeles made two costly mistakes. First, the Lakers called a timeout instead of beating the defense up court and forcing the Celtics to foul. Second, Worthy tried to make a cross- court pass to Byron Scott against fullcourt pressure after the Lakers made the inbounds pass under their own basket.
''We were really trying to deny Magic the basketball,'' Henderson said. ''Whoever was guarding Magic, I think it was Cedric (Maxwell), did a helluva job. They got it into McAdoo, I think. He tried to loft the ball over and we were in fullcourt pressure and there was no question about it, we had to go for the steal, had to come up with it. We just had to make it happen.''
Henderson might not have remembered the names of all the guilty parties. But he did remember the play and, yes, it surprised him that a player like Worthy, who learned the game under Dean Smith at North Carolina, would try to pass the ball back toward his own basket.
''I was kind of surprised that a team like the Lakers would do that,'' he said. ''But they kind of got the ball in the wrong guy's hands and he lofted it up and anytime you do that, you have to go for the steal.''
Worthy was more than willing to step forward and accept the blame for committing a fundamental error.
''I thought Byron was wide open,'' Worthy said. ''He had his back to the basket, but he's quick enough to double back. It wasn't really a zipped pass. It was more of a floater. But Byron was going away from it. I think if he had come back or stayed stationary, it would have been there.''
This was the most memorable play Henderson has made since moving into the Celtics' starting lineup this year.
''There were a few in college,'' said Henderson, who attended Virginia Commonwealth. ''But none in the NBA like that. You know, this has been my first year playing as much as I have and you have to make plays like that. I'm glad I just came up with that play.''
Henderson surfaced in Boston five years ago. A star at Virginia Commonwealth who originally was selected by San Antonio in the second round of the 1979 draft, he was plucked off the Continental Basketball Association scrap heap by former Celtics coach Bill Fitch, who was looking for a backup who could give Tiny Archibald a breather.
Henderson bided his time, then finally moved up the ladder when Archibald went to Milwaukee this year. Although he might not be able to penetrate as effectively as Archibald, Henderson still has certain qualities that make him a valuable member of this fastbreak-oriented team.
Henderson is known as a push-up guard because of his quickness and ability to get the ball up the floor after baskets. When Henderson first arrived here, he seemed reluctant to get too involved in the Celtics' offense.
But this year, he has become much more aggressive and confident, shooting 53 percent from the field and giving Boston some much-needed scoring from the outside.
Henderson got off to a slow start in the opener of this series, but he shot 7-for-14 last night, taking some of the pressure off Larry Bird and Robert Parish when the Lakers attempted to double-down on the ball.
Henderson tied the game at 118-118 in overtime with a driving three-point play. He also contributed to the winning field goal, getting credited with an assist when he found Scott Wedman in the deep corner with 14 seconds to play. Wedman hit nothing but net.
''We reached into our pockets and came up with a prayer,'' Jones said.
Henderson will say amen to that.
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