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GAME 4 : Lakers, Celtics Are Ready for Tonight’s Battle--It Will Likely Mean Survival

Times Staff Writer

Each in their own way, the Lakers and Celtics tuned up Tuesday for Game 4 of the National Basketball Assn. championship series that will be played tonight at the Forum.

Since it is such an important game, many last-minute preparations were being made.

Celtic guard Ray Williams shadow-boxed in the tunnel.

The Lakers were reportedly considering changing their team name to the Purple People Beaters.

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Yes, it’s getting pretty nasty. Imagine what will happen when they play the game.

With another victory tonight, the Lakers will be only one victory away from a championship. But if the Celtics win, they will tie the series at 2-2 with one game left at the Forum and force the series back to Boston for Game 6.

“This one’s going to be the turning point of the series,” Celtic forward Larry Bird said.

With so much at stake, the series has shifted into high gear. So have many mouths. Let’s begin with K.C. Jones’.

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“The Lakers play cheap-shot, dirty basketball.”

Your turn, Pat Riley.

“Ask him what he said to Greg Kite just before Kite tried to take Mitch Kupchak’s head off Sunday.”

You again, K.C.

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“He must be a hell of a lip reader.”

So who, specifically, are the Lakers’ cheap-shot artists, K.C.?

“Mitch Kupchak and Larry Spriggs.”

Your turn, Pat.

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“Gee, I didn’t know he was going to get so personal.”

Mitch?

“No comment.”

Larry Spriggs?

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“I don’t understand that statement considering some of the players he has on his team.”

Any thoughts on that, Kevin McHale?

“I don’t see much of that (dirty play) myself.”

Your turn again, Pat.

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“This is getting pretty comical, but it won’t be comical when we play.”

Apparently, boys just want to have fun. You may even be able to see a certifiable laugh riot tonight at the Forum in what looms as the most important game of the series. Boston forward Cedric Maxwell said that if the Celtics do not win, they may be going to Las Vegas instead of Boston.

Meanwhile, the odds are increasing that there will be another round of the pushing, elbowing, finger pointing and body-slamming that transpired in Game 3.

The Lakers, who won Sunday, 136-111, are expecting the worst, but they say they won’t back down.

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“Maybe the game will be played without any altercations,” Kareem Abdul-Jabbar said. “We’re not going to go blow for blow with them, but let the blows come if they may.”

It may not be poetry, but this is the way the series has evolved. The verbal skirmishes have very nearly overshadowed what’s happening on the court, an area where the Lakers have shown a recent domination.

At the Forum, the Lakers are outrebounding the Celtics, outshooting them and outrunning them in a chilling display that has even affected Jones, who was asked whether the Forum’s air conditioning had given him a cold.

“No, but their fast break has,” he said.

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The Lakers have managed to offset the Celtic front line, which is still their biggest worry, by rotating players. It is a battle of numbers. The Lakers are using more players, so they have more fouls to give, and the arguments go on.

“It’s not physical basketball, it’s cheap-shot dirty basketball,” Jones said. “Being physical is part of the game, but cheap shots aren’t basketball. They know they have fouls to waste. Their fouls are going to be on purpose.”

Jones was asked whether the Celtics would retaliate with clothesline tackles similar to the McHale-Kurt Rambis incident in Game 4 last season.

“We don’t have any clotheslines, but we may go to the 7-Eleven and get some,” Jones said, laughing.

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This is reminiscent of what Riley was saying after Game 4 last season when he called the Celtics a bunch of thugs, only he wasn’t laughing then. Riley said it to catch the attention of the game officials, which is the same thing Jones is doing now.

But Riley said there is a difference between calling players cheap-shot artists and calling them thugs.

It is a fine line, said Riley, who apparently is able to discern the nuances. The difference seems to be that you can get fined for saying one, but not the other.

"(Milwaukee Buck Coach) Don Nelson was fined for calling (Danny) Ainge a cheap-shot artist a couple of years ago,” Riley said. “I didn’t get fined for calling them thugs. So I wonder if they’re going to take K.C.'s money.”

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The Lakers should probably worry about how to take K.C.'s ring instead. If they win tonight, they’re just about there. If they don’t, Jones said the Lakers may stop smiling altogether.

“They’re 2-1 now and they feel very good about themselves,” Jones said. “They’re walking around smiling. We’re not smiling.

“If they go up, 3-1, our backs won’t be against the wall, they’ll be part of the wall.”

Maybe this series should be fought for out in the parking lot, as Bird has suggested. Maybe the Lakers and Celtics should take 10 paces, turn and fire basketballs at each other.

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“I don’t see the intensity level decreasing,” Abdul-Jabbar said.

Neither does anyone else.


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