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D.J.'s Shot Proves the Celtics Can Go Home Again : Celtic Guard Was the Open Man, and Bird Found Him in Time

Times Staff Writer

With Byron Scott and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar charging toward him, Boston guard Dennis Johnson knew he had to put more arc on his shot than he normally does.

But that’s all he had time to think about, standing 21 feet away from the basket with the game in his hands and time running out. Three . . . Two . . . D.J. let it go.

“I thought I had a 50-50 chance,” he said later. “I’m not a 50% shooter, but I always figure I’m going to make something when I throw it up there.”

One . . .

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The ball went through the net. Cleanly.

Laker Coach Pat Riley signaled immediately for a timeout. But when he looked at the clock high above the Forum floor, all he saw was 00:00.

All but a few Boston fans among the Forum crowd of 17,505 sat in silence, stunned. The Celtics had won, 107-105, in Game 4 of the NBA championship series.

As Boston players and coaches mobbed D.J. at midcourt, knocking him to the floor in probably the most violent act of the night, Red Auerbach lit a victory cigar and walked nonchalantly toward the dressing room.

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He had seen it all before. When Auerbach retired as the Celtics’ coach in 1966, they had won 9 championships in 10 years. In the next decade and a half, with Auerbach as general manager, the Celtics won six more championships. Now, in his first year as a fulltime club president, they are two victories away from winning another.

Auerbach seemed to have known all along that Johnson’s shot was going in. It wasn’t 50-50 to him.

“We’re the good guys,” he said, as if that explained it all.

“We’re the national team. That’s not ego talking. I would venture to say without exaggeration that we have more fans outside of Boston than any other team in the league.”

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But Auerbach wasn’t finished.

At that moment, it didn’t seem to be enough for the Celtics to be just the national team.

They had responded, Auerbach said, to a higher calling.

“We go to the right church,” he said.

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Who could argue?

Late in the first half, the Celtics had a team on the floor that only God could love. They had D.J., Robert Parish and Kevin McHale on the floor, but out there with them were M.L. Carr and Cedric Maxwell. Maxwell is playing on one leg, while Carr was on his last legs two years ago.

Those were the only four minutes Maxwell played all night, but he had a steal that led to a fast-break basket and also scored three points as the Celtics not only held their own but carried a one-point lead into the dressing room at halftime.

Midway through the third quarter, when the Lakers appeared to having everything going their way, Boston Coach K. C. Jones tried to put an even more unlikely lineup on the floor and succeeded.

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But with McHale, Quinn Buckner, Scott Wedman, Danny Ainge and Greg Kite on the floor, the Celtics managed to stay within four points of the Lakers.

“Everybody tonight did their part,” Larry Bird said. “If we do that, we’ll win the championship.”

The constant was McHale.

Playing the entire 48 minutes, McHale had 28 points, 13 in the third quarter, and 12 rebounds.

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Everyone seemed to be impressed with McHale’s iron-man role, everyone except Auerbach.

“Oh, hell,” he said when someone mentioned to him that McHale never got a rest. “Bill Russell used to play 53 and 58 minutes. You’re supposed to play 48.”

The message was clear. In Auerbach’s mind, there are different standards for the Celtics.

They lived up to them in the fourth quarter.

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That’s the one Bird calls “my quarter.”

Indeed, it was Wednesday night as he made play after play at both ends of the floor, stealing the ball from Magic Johnson, tying up Bob McAdoo, drawing Kareem Abdul-Jabbar’s fifth foul, hitting the 18-foot jump shot, to lead the Celtics from seven points behind until they were back in contention.

Then, Ainge, the sharpshooter who had been firing blanks, hit a 20-foot shot from the baseline to draw the Celtics within one. He followed that with a 22-footer as time ran out on the 24-second clock to give the Celtics a two-point lead with 33 seconds remaining.

“Danny had the shot because he had the ball when there was no time on the clock,” Maxwell said. “I won $5 from him playing horse yesterday, but he can keep it now.”

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That was the second most important shot of the night for the Celtics.

After the Lakers tied the score with 19 seconds remaining, the Celtics called a timeout a set up a play.

“We didn’t know who was going to take the shot,” Maxwell said. “Over in the huddle, some guys were looking, and some guys were looking away.”

They all ended up looking at Bird.

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Who else?

D.J. dribbled until the clock had run down to 0:05.

He passed to Bird, who was immediately double-teamed by Magic Johnson and James Worthy.

Not even Bird could find a way to shoot.

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Nor could he get the ball inside to McHale, the second option.

So he threw the ball back to D.J., who was open because Magic had left him to double-team Bird.

Johnson had not played particularly well in this series. In the 136-111 loss Sunday at the Forum, he missed 11 of 14 shots and had only six assists.

But Jones knew this game would be different from watching D. J. in the dressing room.

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“He had that look in his eye,” Jones said.

By halftime Wednesday night, D. J. had made 8 of 12 shots from the field for 17 points. He also had nine assists.

He finished with 27 points, 12 assists and 7 rebounds. Those are Magic Johnson numbers.

After this season, when he becomes a free agent, he also would like to see Magic Johnson numbers on his paycheck.

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But for now he is all Celtic.

“If it hadn’t been me doing it,” he said, “it would have been somebody else.”

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.

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NOTE--All times PDT. Game 7 if necessary.


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