Forget Other 210, These 2 Were Biggest
In the Inglewood Forum on Wednesday night, the Boston Celtics slaughtered the Los Angeles Lakers, 107-105.
It was one of the great wipeouts of history. It will rank with the Chicago Bears’ 73-0 rout of the Redskins in 1941, the 18-4 game the Yankees once won in a World Series, the Dempsey-Willard fight.
“Wait just a darn minute!” you want to say? “Since when is a 21-foot shot going in at the buzzer a wipeout?”
Well, it’s all a matter of perspective. Wipeouts come in funny forms. Once, in a football game in Georgia, a Southern writer, it may have been Furman Bisher, wrote: “Georgia Tech crushed Notre Dame here today, 3-3.”
It was a tellingly accurate observation. So was the conclusion that the Bostons slaughtered the Los Angeleses by two points. Because those two loom as 200.
Here was the situation in Game 4 of the NBA championship series: The Lakers had just drubbed--really--the Boston Celtics by 25 easy points in Game 3. The Celtics’ Larry Bird, one of the top three basketball players who ever lived, quite clearly was not himself. He was some stone-fingered imposter who threw the ball around like it was an anvil. The real Bird, you see, could sink a soap bubble.
So, it all looked as easy as stomping crickets to the Lakers. All they had to do was roll over the prostrate Celtics in Games 4 and 5 and the series would end in L.A., and they would not have to go back to the (ugh!) parquets of Boston Garden.
It wasn’t going to be a game, it was going to be a revue, choreographed by Magic Johnson and his flying feet. Bojangles does basketball. A day in the park for Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and the rest of the guys in the purple suits.
Look, the Celtics don’t have any bench. The Lakers are all bench. The Celtics can’t penetrate. The Lakers go down the middle like it was an on-ramp to the Hollywood Freeway.
The Celtics were through. They looked like five guys in a haunted house. They were trying to look over both shoulders at once. Jack Nicholson was looking at them with that wicked snake-eyes grin. Kevin McHale was just hoping that he wouldn’t be put under arrest and was checking the capital punishment statutes in this state. Robert Parish apparently hadn’t made the trip.
Everywhere the Lakers looked, there were championship rings, the Johnny Carson show, the keys to the city, a ride down Broadway. They were like the Austrian cavalry. It seemed a shame they had to go to war.
As you know, Hollywood doesn’t deal in sad endings and this one looked as safe as a Roy Rogers movie. The Lakers would get the girl, the horse, the ring, save the farm and everything.
Well, they got an ending that didn’t leave a dry eye in the house. It made Stella Dallas look like a musical comedy. They got an ending right out of an Italian movie. They got an ending that was a combination of John Wayne getting shot, Little Eva dying and the bridge of San Luis Rey breaking. A disaster movie. Fire on the 84th floor.
The Lakers made this one tiny, minor mistake. They took this quiet, freckle-faced young man, No. 3 in your programs, and threw him right out of the calculations.
Dennis Wayne Johnson, they figured, was no real factor in these proceedings. He was a spear-carrier, a supernumerary whose main job was to push the ball upcourt for the Celtics and then get the hell out of the way while the real powers took over.
D.J., as they call him, had seen better days. He was doing everything by memory. Boston backcourts had seen guys like Cousy, Ramsey, Sharman, K.C. Jones, Sam Jones and Jo Jo White, and D.J. was supposed to be long past those kinds of performances.
With 19 seconds to go Wednesday night, everybody in the United States of America knew what was going to happen. The score was tied at 105-105, and the Celtics had the ball.
Nobody paid the slightest attention to D.J. as he trundled the ball toward the enemy basket, least of all the Lakers. He was just a courier, a messenger. The ball had Larry Bird’s name on it. D.J. had to deliver it.
He got the ball to Bird with seven seconds on the clock. It wasn’t easy because the Bird was surrounded by Lakers but D.J. is an expert at ball smuggling.
Dennis Johnson suddenly found himself standing all alone in front of the basket with time on his hands, no one to talk to. He could have brought a book.
The Lakers must have figured that he was waiting for a bus because they paid no attention to him.
But, with four seconds to go, Larry Bird suddenly lateraled the ball to him like a bank robber getting rid of the loot in a chase.
Dennis Johnson was never so open in his life. He casually dropped the ball through the hoop at the buzzer. For the Lakers, it may be like dropping the cyanide tablet in the acid. It was the biggest two points of the series, maybe of the season.
The Lakers suddenly realized that that was the 11th basket of the game and the 26th and 27th points from the man everybody had forgotten. He had very quietly wiped them out in their sleep.
Because, if the series, which now has to go back to Boston, ends in another Laker humiliation in the Hub, as so many have before, those two points will be every bit as big as the 73 scored by the Bears, the 18 by the Yanks, or any 100 ever scored by Wilt Chamberlain.
Sometimes, two points can be infinity.