June 12, 1987
CELTICS CRASH LAKERS' PARTY THEY COAST TO COAST, 123-108
This one was for the guy in the "Big Bird" suit waving the sign that said "Certified Bird Sanctuary." This one was for the kid walking around as a Celtic ghost.
This one was for the people who remember Ed Sadowski and Hank Beenders and Dickie Hemric. This one was for the people who recall that Richie Niemann was once a Celtic. This one was for the people who lay awake with a transistor radio plugged into their ear listening to Johnny Most tell them about the night in Seattle when the game had three endings and the Celtics lost at the final-final-final buzzer. This one was for all the fans who lifted the team in the last-day Atlanta game and who pulled the team through Milwaukee 7, Detroit 5 and 7 and LA 3.
Most of all, this one was for themselves. It was Boston 123, Los Angeles 108 last night at the Garden. The Lakers will drink no champagne, make no speeches or dance no victory dances in this town. There will be a Game 6. It's a 3-2 series now, and if the Lakers are to win it, they'll have to celebrate with Dancing Barry, either Sunday or Tuesday.
"We had to win this one," said Danny Ainge, whose downtown marksmanship tilted the game in Boston's favor during the third quarter. "We let it all out on this one. If you think of winning three games now against LA, it's pretty mind-boggling. But if you think of winning one game at a time, then it's not too bad."
Mark it down: This one was a registered stomping. And get this. It was Boston's biggest rout of this endless postseason. Oh, the Lakers were close on the scoreboard in the final period at 103-95, Boston, with 5:59 left, but that's as close as it came because The World's Greatest Starting Five wasn't going to let this one get away. The Lakers had started off Period 4 trailing by 19 (96-77), but by connecting on 9 of their first 11 fourth-quarter shots, they made the crowd very nervous. But their heroes didn't disappoint them this time.
When Ainge (whose four third-quarter three-pointers had cracked open this game) missed a drive, the resourceful Dennis Johnson (25 points, 11 assists) was there for a lefty tap-in (106-95). Kareem Abdul-Jabbar came back with a short sneakaway hook, but Robert Parish (21) took a pass from a trapped Kevin McHale and dunked one to restore the 11-point lead. By this time, the Celtics, who had suffered through a 2-for-8 fourth-quarter start, had restarted the engine.
The decisive sequence came at 112-99. Larry Bird (23 points, 12 rebounds) pulled down a James Worthy brick, starting a fast break culminating in a fast break jumper by the irreplaceable DJ. Bird retreated and tipped away Michael Cooper's long outlet pass. Johnson came back and stuck in another transition jumper. That made it 116-99, and at that moment, Pat Riley knew he'd be playing in the Forum Sunday.
The Celtics originally broke the game open in the second quarter, taking the lead at 32-31 (there had been 10 ties before Period 1 concluded at 25-25) and expanding it to a crowd-pleasing 15 at 63-48 by the halftime buzzer when Ainge threw in a 33-foot runner.
The closing sequence was revealing, because it may have indicated exactly whose night it was or wasn't going to be. For the Lakers had come upcourt with 28 seconds left hoping to get a 12-point deficit down to 10 when Worthy (6 for 19) missed a jumper. Greg Kite hauled in the rebound, pitched out to Ainge and then watched along with 14,890 delighted patrons and 10 teammates as young Daniel launched an old-fashioned Cousyesque runner that sailed cleanly through the hoop.
But that bit of show biz was naught but the warmup act for the Ainge headliner, which turned out to be a 14-point third quarter during which he sank four more three-pointers. The first two were back-to-back jobs (72-60, 75-62). The third made it 82-71, and may have been the biggest, because LA was showing definite signs of life at the time. The fourth, with 36 seconds left, made it 94-77 and was the prelude to a delicious Celtic ending when Bird sent -- are you ready? -- Bill Walton in for a gorgeous pick-and-roll layup that capped a dazzling Boston third quarter and made it 96-77 heading into the fourth.
For the third time in as many games, the Celtics demonstrated that in the Friendly Confines of the Gah-den, they not only know how to play the Lakers, but actually are the better team. They unveiled a beautifully balanced offense that resulted in all five starters cracking the 20-point barrier, headed by Johnson, and followed by Bird (23), McHale (22), Parish and Ainge (21). They did the job on the boards (a 46-40 edge). And they even got helpful little contributions from the bench, as the likes of Darren Daye, Jerry Sichting, Walton and Folk Hero Supreme Greg Kite (whose banked free throw only added to his personal mystique) did their parts to send this series back to LA.
And all you folks wearing the "Beat LA" or "I Hate LA" T-shirts, you did indeed see what you think you saw. The Celtics not only beat the boys in purple, but they also ran them out of town. By any reasonable count (underline the word "reasonable"), the Celtics had more fast break points than the Lakers (CBS said 39-30; the Globe says 28-24).
The Lakers were left in the din and the sweat of the Garden like so many Nuggets, Nets or Washington Generals. The trick now is to get your mind off the last minute and a half of Tuesday's game and reflect on the satisfaction the team brought its fans last night.