Even before the Boston Celtics’ perspiration had dried after the Memorial Day Massacre, they were saying that it didn’t matter whether they had beaten the Lakers by 34 points or four.
All the Lakers had to do, they said, was win Game 2 of the best-of-seven championship series Thursday night at Boston Garden and the demons of self-doubt would switch dressing rooms.
“I sure wish this was backgammon or cribbage,” Boston forward Cedric Maxwell said. “Then we could carry the 34 points over into the second game.”
And so it came to pass that the Lakers won Thursday night, 109-102, and suddenly the team that had been beaten beyond recognition three days earlier was in control.
Because of the NBA’s new championship format that has the next three games scheduled for Los Angeles, the Lakers can win the title without returning to decaying Boston Garden.
That would be no simple assignment, beating the Celtics three straight times, even if the games were played at Jerry Buss’ Pickfair.
But the Celtics today would gladly trade places with the Lakers.
Of course, the Lakers would have said the same thing following a 148-114 loss to the Celtics Monday in Game 1.
Larry Bird shook his head, wondering along with everyone else in the Celtic dressing room where it had gone so wrong.
“This was a different day,” he concluded.
Guard Dennis Johnson explained it as a “role reversal.”
In Monday’s game, the Celtics were the aggressors, the team that crashed the boards at both ends of the court, pushed the ball inside for blue-collar baskets, hit the outside shots and ran the fast break the way the Lakers are supposed to run the fast break.
But in this game, the Lakers were the team that came out with intensity and played a working-class game they aren’t supposed to know anything about in the Western Conference.
You know the Western Conference?
The game out there is not basketball. It’s ballet.
The Lakers had the advantage in several areas of the game Thursday night, but there was one statistic that showed more than any of the others which team came to Boston Garden wearing the hard hats.
Lakers 14, Celtics 3.
“They wanted it more than we did tonight, and that is totally unacceptable to us,” Celtic forward Kevin McHale said. “It was totally unlike us to give up that many shots. We got outrebounded, we got outscrapped.
“Larry and Robert (Parish) played well for us. Everyone else should have stayed home.”
The Celtics had some other ideas about the reason they lost.
Coach K.C. Jones said he wished it was referee Jake O’Donnell who had stayed home. When O’Donnell has called their games this season, the Celtics are 5-6.
“I felt good about this game all day,” Boston Coach K.C. Jones said. “But when I was walking down the hall and saw Jake O’Donnell, I said, ‘Uh oh, there’s trouble in the area.’ ”
A couple of things Jones didn’t point out were that O’Donnell isn’t the Lakers’ favorite referee, either and that the other official Thursday night was John Vanak. Before this game, the Celtics were 11-0 in games that Vanak had called.
The Celtics’ most legitimate excuse was the second-quarter injury that limited the effectiveness of Parish, who has been their most valuable player in the playoffs.
If Parish, 31, is to neutralize Kareem Abdul-Jabbar’s sky hook, the Celtic center has to use his speed to run from one end of the court to the other and hope that fatigue cuts down his 38-year-old counterpart.
But he was elbowed in the second quarter and limped to the dressing room.
The Celtics originally said it was a contusion of his right rear. Jones later said it was a lower back problem.
Whatever, Parish wasn’t able to run, not the way he can run.
He was hardly rendered useless, returning to the game and finishing with 18 points and 10 rebounds.
But he wasn’t able to run down Abdul-Jabbar, who had 30 points, 17 rebounds and 8 assists.
“Robert couldn’t get up and down the court like he usually does,” M.L. Carr said. “He was in a lot of pain, but he gave a gallant effort under the circumstances.”
Otherwise, the Celtics gave credit where credit was due, claiming that the Lakers stole a page from Red on Roundball.
“I said the other day that we came out like Marvin Hagler against Thomas Hearns,” Jones said. “I saw where Pat Riley said they were going to come back with a right hook. That’s exactly what they did.”
Cedric Maxwell said he thought the victory in Game 1 might have come too easy for the Celtics.
“Sometimes, when you play a perfect game and win by 30 points, you think all you have to do is throw your hat in the ring and you’ll win,” he said. “I don’t think we said enough about the kind of character that the Lakers have.”
Bird said the Celtics had a letdown.
“We tend to get better when we have our backs against the wall,” he said.
As far as he’s concerned, that’s where the Celtics have their backs.
“They got what they wanted, a split on our home court,” he said. “They’re in great shape now. If they win two of three on their home court, they’re still in great shape.”
Carr didn’t want to hear that.
Asked if he’s concerned that the Celtics may not be able to return to Boston Garden this season, he said: “I look at it as a challenge to go out there and end it in L.A. I look at it positively.
“It’s just unfortunate for our fans that we have to end it out there.”
You can’t keep the Celtics down all night. NBA CHAMPIONSHIP LAKERS VS CELTICS BEST-OF-SEVEN SERIES
Game 1 Celtics 148, Lakers 114 Game 2 Lakers 109, Celtics 102 Game 3 Sunday, June 2 at Forum 12:30 p.m. Game 4 Wednesday, June 5 at Forum 6:00 p.m. Game 5 Friday, June 7 at Forum 6:00 p.m. Game 6 Sunday, June 9 at Boston 11:00 a.m. Game 7 Tuesday, June 11 at Boston 6:00 p.m.
NOTE: GAMES 6 and 7 if necessary. All times PDT.