December 12, 1987
MAGIC STUNS CELTICS LAST-SECOND HOOP LIFTS LA, 115-114
Is there a longer second or second and a half in sports? Team A by a point. Man from Team B lets fly with the basketball, and by the time the ball either does or doesn't go in the basket, the buzzer will have sounded and the game will be over. All control of the game passes to a higher authority. And isn't the suspense heightened when the identity of the player from Team B is Earvin (Magic) Johnson and the identity of Team A is the Boston Celtics, and the game is being played in Boston Garden?
It was a long second or so, all right, and it was an even longer walk back to the locker room for the Celtics after Johnson's borderline three-pointer (officially, uh-uh, but it sure looked like it) banked in cleanly through the cords to give the Lakers a dramatic 115-114 triumph before 14,890 instant pallbearers last night.
Magic's game-winner from the edge of the three-point line served as a fitting exclamation point to a sizzler that had far transcended the NBA norm from the opening tap-off. Each team came into the game as a loser in four of its last five outings, but this one had a Finals tinge, as befitted the build- up. In order to pull this one out, the Lakers had to come from 13 down (71-58) in the third, from 9 down (98-89) with 8:24 remaining and from 6 down (111-105) with 2:35 to go, not to mention from 3 down (113-110) with 55 seconds to go.
Pick it up right there, after Danny Ainge had rifled a pass underneath to Robert Parish for a layup. The Celtics needed one defensive stop to wrap up the game. Instead, they had a communications breakdown of some sort, because what they did was leave the menacing Michael Cooper (21) alone on the right wing for a game-tying three-pointer.
A steal by Byron Scott (21 points in perhaps his best Garden appearance ever) gave it back to Los Angeles, but the Celtics dug in and prevented the magisterial Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (23) from getting off a good shot. Stuck with the ball in the deep right corner, he missed a leaner, and Larry Bird (35 points, 9 rebounds, 8 assists, 5 steals) rebounded. Eschewing a timeout, he initiated a fast break that culminated in an Ainge drive. Danny was fouled by Magic, stepping to the line with three seconds left and the scored tied at 113.
He made the first but missed the second, and Mychal Thompson rebounded. By the time he came down to the parquet, the ball had been jarred loose and Kevin McHale had it in his possession, but referee Mike Mathis ruled that a legitimate timeout had been called, to the anguish of the Celtics, their coaching staff and the patrons.
"Before Ainge took the free throws," Mathis said, "Michael Cooper asked me for a timeout, whether the shots were made or missed. Ainge then missed the second shot, Mychal Thompson grabbed the rebound and Cooper yelled for the timeout."
So the Lakers retained possession. The Celtics called for time after a look at the first LA setup and, when play resumed, LA had a different look, with everybody high.
"All you can ask for is to get the ball in bounds," said Lakers coach Pat Riley. "You just hope you can get some air space. Earvin made a miracle shot, granted, but he was able to get some rhythm going because he had air space."
This was an extremely painful loss for the Celtics, who blew a game in which they committed only 11 turnovers and surrendered but 6 offensive rebounds for 12 LA points. Among the wasted efforts were Bird's high-level game and a brilliant 17-point, 8-for-10 relief job turned in by Jerry Sichting, plus a gutsy big-time game by Dennis Johnson, who scored 19 points on his injured left ankle.
The ultimate reality of this game was that with 2:35 left, the Celtics were in control and they could not finish off the night's work. Riley called time after a Bird steal and coast-to-coast runner and informed his team it could win if it kept its poise on offense and dug in on defense. Accordingly, the World Champs (a salient point, is it not?) scored on five of their final six possessions while limiting the Celtics to the Parish layup and the Ainge transition free throw at the other end.
Included in the stretch run were successive inside-out foul line jumpers by Thompson (111-107, 111-109) and the Cooper crusher from Quincy Market. That, hoop fans, is clutch shooting. And throw in a prototypical second-half shooting display by the 40-year-old Kareem, a 10-for-14 shooter.
Suffice it to say that this game, while flawed, contained more graphic displays of one-upmanship and more sheer outbursts of athletic brilliance than all previous home games put together. "That," said Riley, "was a great game, hot game. Both teams were causing-and-effecting all over the place."
Last year (Game 5, remember?) Magic knifed the Celtics with a game-winning hook. This time he slit their throat with a banked runner.
"In April, all of this will be forgotten," said Abdul-Jabbar, the only person in the joint who looked bored when it was over, "but I will say they gave him the right nickname."