D.J.'s Shot Proves the Celtics Can Go Home Again : Last-Second Basket Gives Boston 107-105 Win and Ties Series, 2-2
The season, perhaps, had come down to its last second for the Boston Celtics. Time was measured by heartbeat, head and hands.
Larry Bird said he was counting the final seconds in his head just before he put the ball in Dennis Johnson’s hands.
Five, four, three, then Bird passed to Johnson, standing 21 feet away from the basket. He shoots . . . two, one . . . the ball drops through the hoop.
The Celtics beat the clock and beat the Lakers, 107-105, Wednesday night at the Forum, on a last-second shot by a guy who’s supposed to be struggling with his outside shot.
“I always figure I’m gonna’ make something when I throw it up there,” said Johnson, who certainly figured right this time.
Suddenly, maybe unexpectedly, the National Basketball Assn. championship series is tied, 2-2. In the brief flicker of the time it took for Johnson’s game-winning shot to fall, the Celtics reclaimed their home-court advantage as well as an edge of another sort.
“When it comes down to a last-second shot and you lose, that really hurts,” the Lakers’ James Worthy said.
The Lakers have 46 hours to pull themselves together again and rebound from a game they might have won.
They scored only 11 points the last seven minutes of the game, had just three points in the last two minutes, committed three turnovers in four possessions down the stretch and let Larry Bird get away from them for the first time in the series.
“What happened is a little bit of a dagger right now,” Laker Coach Pat Riley said. “We lost a tough game, but we don’t have time to wallow in it.”
The Lakers blew a seven-point lead early in the fourth quarter, when Bird took control of the game. Bone chips may be floating in Bird’s right elbow, but Bird sent eight consecutive points floating through the basket in just over a minute and a half.
“For the last couple of games, we haven’t had him,” Dennis Johnson said. “It was nice to see Larry back.”
The Lakers didn’t feel the same joy. You can’t blame them. Bird also stole the ball twice from Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, who had a rough time getting off his hook shot against a double- and triple-teaming Celtic defense.
Abdul-Jabbar made just four hook shots the entire game, but two of them came within a minute of each other late in the fourth quarter, the second of which gave the Lakers a 102-99 lead with 2:03 remaining.
After that, the Laker offense could produce only one Abdul-Jabbar free throw and a rebound basket by Magic Johnson that tied the game for the last time with 19 seconds remaining.
Danny Ainge, another Celtic guard who had been scatter-shooting for a couple of games, dropped in two pressure jumpers from long distance to put Boston ahead. Magic’s basket, which came after he rebounded a missed shot by Abdul-Jabbar, had tied the game.
The Celtics called time out and tried to run a play for Bird, but he was double-teamed, so Dennis Johnson wound up with the ball and a chance to be a hero. He didn’t blow his opportunity. He shot over Byron Scott and watched.
“It was just like a bombing raid,” Cedric Maxwell said. “Danny dropped a couple, then D. J. drops the A-bomb.”
All series long, the Lakers have packed their defense to the middle and dared the Celtics to beat them from the outside, so that’s what Boston did.
“The ball went to a player who we probably wanted to shoot it, and he buried it,” Riley said.
Johnson, who had made only 9 of his last 32 shots coming into the game, dropped 11 of 20 Wednesday night. He’s still shooting only 39% for the series, but Johnson was able to establish both early and late, starting off inside and then finishing off the Lakers from the outside.
Johnson scored 27 points for the Celtics, who got 28 points from Kevin McHale (in 48 minutes) and 27 more from Bird. Those numbers offset the Lakers’ 21 points from Abdul-Jabbar, who attempted only 14 shots, and 20 points, 11 rebounds and 12 assists by Magic Johnson.
At halftime, the Celtics’ Johnson had helped the Celtics to a 59-58 lead. He had 17 points, 10 coming on five drives to the basket.
“We didn’t come out messin’ around tonight,” Johnson said.
There were no incidents of bad temper in either half, and that may not have worked to the Lakers’ favor. NBA Vice President Scotty Stirling met with Riley and Celtic Coach K. C. Jones before the game and told them to inform their players to cool it with the rough stuff.
Bob McAdoo said Riley told the Lakers to expect quick whistles from the referees to keep the game manageable.
“I think that made us timid defensively,” McAdoo said. “We just didn’t go at it as aggressively as we did the last two games. Why, I don’t really know. This team has a tendency to get a little soft after winning a game. Maybe we were getting too comfortable. I think that’s what happened to us tonight.”
There will be little comfort for the Lakers now, because after Friday night’s Game 5 at the Forum, the rest of the series will be played in Boston Garden.
One reason why the Garden remains in the picture is what happened in the third quarter when the Lakers held a seven-point lead with 4:22 left.
Jones removed Robert Parish, Bird and Dennis Johnson from the game in favor of Quinn Buckner, Greg Kite and Scott Wedman. With three starters sitting, the Celtics managed to cut the Laker lead to 80-76.
In nearly five minutes, the Lakers did not score a field goal. Abdul-Jabbar, working against Kite, did not attempt a shot. At the end of the third quarter, the Celtics trailed, 84-82, and Bird and Parish were rested.
“We had our opportunities in the third quarter,” Riley said. “We could have opened it up even more, but we didn’t.”
The Lakers had eight turnovers in the second half, but the last three really hurt. Johnson tried a drop pass in the lane that Ainge stole, then Johnson lost the ball to Bird while trying to fake a pass and drive. Worthy’s forced pass to Scott was deflected off Scott’s leg by Dennis Johnson.
The Celtic free agent guard, who is paid $405,000, earned every bit of it when he sank his game-winning jumper.
“I was wide open,” Johnson said.
So now it’s up to the Lakers to close the gap. If they’re going to win this series, they now know they’re going to have to do it in Boston, the place where they lost it last season, nearly one year ago.
“Mentally and emotionally, it’s even,” Riley said. “We just have to go back to Boston Garden and win the championship. I think we’re going to.”
But now, both time and the home-court advantage are with the Celtics. The issue wasn’t settled Wednesday night, but geography was.
“We’re going back to Boston,” Ainge said.
NBA CHAMPIONSHIP SERIES CELTICS VS. LAKERS THE RESULTS GAME 1 Celtics 148, Lakers 114 GAME 2 Lakers 109, Celtics 102 GAME 3 Lakers 136, Celtics 111 GAME 4 Celtics 107, Lakers 105 THE SCHEDULE
DATE SITE TIME GAME 5 Friday, June 7 at Forum 6:00 p.m. GAME 6 Sunday, June 9 at Boston 10:00 a.m. GAME 7 Tuesday, June 11 at Boston 6:00 p.m.
NOTE--All times PDT. Game 7 if necessary.