Lakers Turn Victory into Defeat (again)


It was starry and symmetrical; the kind of celebrity ball you expect when these rosters clash.

Relatively speaking, there was little at stake. When the Lakers and Celtics last met, it was 95 degrees outside and the teams were playing for rings, banners and an invite to President Reagan's Rose Garden.

Last night was different. On the coldest day in the dead of winter, the Celtics were playing to hold onto a share of first place, while the Lakers sought to avert their first three-game losing streak in two years.

The outcome was the same. LA blew a three-point, last-minute lead, Kevin McHale awoke to score the winning basket with one second left, and the Celtics were 104-102 winners over the cursed Lakers.

One more Garden party like this and Pat Riley's team will move from Sports Illustrated to Psychology Today.

"I thought we had it," said Magic Johnson (13 assists). "Definitely. But we didn't. So it's back to the drawing board."

When James Worthy hit a turnaround over McHale, then rebounded a Dennis Johnson miss, the Lakers led by three (102-99) and had the ball with less than a minute to go.

Deja Vu. The Lakers were condemned to repeat their mistakes of last spring. A turnover, a foul, a basket after a whistle, a bundle of missed shots, a defensive mixup and a failed desperation buzzer-beater foiled LA. It was like a Lakers' lowlight film of Games 2 and 4 from the '84 finals. We had all been here before.

It started when Ainge stole a Kareem Abdul-Jabbar pass. "We were doubling on him all night," said Ainge. "I anticipated him throwing the ball back out to Byron Scott, and I jumped up and got my hands in the passing lane."

Ainge deflected the pass to Bird, who passed to Parish under the basket at the other end. Parish hesitated just long enough to get fouled by Michael Cooper as he made a layup (Cooper didn't think

there was any foul). Parish made the free throw and it was 102-102 with 44 seconds left. (If you dabble in the occult, note that a Parish three-point play helped the Celtics overcome a final-minute, five-point deficit in Game 4 of the finals.)

One could only wonder if Magic might dribble out the clock. He didn't. He made a shot after he was fouled by Ainge. The basket didn't count. There was no free throw (the Celtics were under the limit), and the Lakers took it out of bounds with 30 seconds left.

Cooper inbounded and the Lakers set up a Kareem turnaround (33 points, thanks to another dose of Dick Clark youth serum). The big fella banked it too hard, and two Magic taps also failed. Parish (19 points, 13 rebounds) finally gathered in the loose ball, and the Celtics called time with 0:14 showing.

Bird inbounded and the Celtics moved downcourt. Bird got stuck out top on the right and fed McHale - a man who was clanging the rims to the tune of 25 percent (3 for 12). So what happened? McHale turned, shot over Kurt Rambis, banked it hard off the glass, and watched it rattle around . . . and drop through.

"I told K.C. (Jones) that I was happy he had a little faith in a struggling man," said McHale, who was the first option for the final shot. "Kurt tried to come around me and I pinned him a little. When I got the ball, I just turned and shot. It seemed like the ball was trying to come out all night long, but this one stayed down."

"I really thought they would go with Bird," said Rambis. "When I rolled around to front him, I saw there was nobody there to give me weak-side help. I had to get back to find (McHale), but I was dead either way, and I'd rather have him shoot a 5-footer than dunk the ball."

Bird had confidence in his staggering teammate. "I always have confidence in Kevin," said Bird (19 points, 11 rebounds). "When you're a foot taller than everybody else and you shoot one foot away from the basket, you're bound to make some shots."

One second remained. The Lakers called time and set up Worthy on a half- court, inbound, alley-oop pass from Cooper. Worthy never had control, Cedric Maxwell grabbed the loose ball, and the buzzer sounded.

The first 47 minutes weren't exactly chopped liver.

The initial "Beat LA" chant bounced off the balcony at 8:09, 45 seconds before the opening tap. Boston got 14 first-quarter points from Dennis Johnson (20, with nine rebounds and seven assists), but trailed by 33-31 after one.

Carlos Clark (eight points in 20 minutes) played the entire second period, guarded Magic, and gave the Celtics their first lead when he stuck a lefthanded liner over Mike McGee to make it 38-36. Boston led, 58-56, at intermission.

Folks figured the Celtics would cash in on the fatigue factor after halftime. Boston hadn't played since burning Atlanta Sunday, while the fragile Lakers were playing their eighth game in 11 nights.

The burnout theory looked good when Boston bolted to a 68-60 lead in the first four minutes after halftime, but it fizzled when Kareem paced a three- minute, 14-2 run. Ainge brought the Celtics back and hit a banker off a drive to give Boston a three-point lead (87-84) after three. Three points was the biggest margin for either team the rest of the way.

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