Celtics Get Pounded by Pistons
On a day when the Boston Celtics couldn’t have beaten the Minnesota Timberwolves, they didn’t have a clue what to do with the Detroit Pistons. They didn’t even shake hands and come out fighting.
After Larry Bird refused Detroit center Bill Laimbeer’s handshake during the introductions, the National Basketball Assn.'s defending champions went out and got their wrists slapped, 145-119, in Sunday’s Eastern Conference playoff game at the Pontiac Silverdome, tying the series at two games apiece. It was the most points ever scored against the Celtics in a postseason game.
The Pistons got 83 of those points in the second half, falling four short of the NBA’s playoff record for points in a half.
So, they held service, winning again on their home court. The Pistons return now to what their coach, Chuck Daly, referred to as “the notorious Boston Garden,” where the Celtics took the first two games of this series. Game 5 will be played there Tuesday night.
It certainly was a lost weekend for the champions, whose stock in Detroit fell faster than anything since Chrysler’s in the 1970s. They lost Saturday by 18 points and Sunday by 26. Their leading scorer in both games was substitute guard Sam Vincent, both times with 18 points. They watched center Robert Parish twice re-injure his sprained left ankle, and got so desperate Sunday that they called on guard Danny Ainge, whose sprained knee ligaments had kept him out of action since the Milwaukee series.
Are the Celtics in trouble? Probably not, as long as two of the three remaining games in this series are scheduled for Boston. But, you never know.
Not much went their way over the weekend, that’s for sure. “I got a punch in on Laimbeer. That’s about all I got out of it,” Bird said.
Laimbeer, whose scuffle with Bird on Saturday got both of them kicked out of the game, said he expects “to get a real fine standing ovation” as soon as he sets foot on those creaky Garden floorboards. Sure thing, Billy boy. And Bird probably will come up to you before the game and peck you on the cheek.
“It’s going to be rough enough on him,” Bird said, asked what sort of reception Laimbeer should expect. “I’m not going to get involved in that.”
Still smarting over Saturday’s fight, Bird was expected to make life miserable for the Pistons in Game 4. Instead, he scored 16 points, sat out 15 minutes once the game got out of hand, and did nothing noteworthy on defense. His man at the beginning of the game, Adrian Dantley, ended up with 32 points, and the man he switched to later, Laimbeer, wound up with 20 points and 13 rebounds.
“I’m very disappointed in the fact that I didn’t rebound better, and I wasn’t active with my hands on defense,” Bird said. “I think there is no question this team follows my lead.”
If so, they must have watched Bird ignore Laimbeer’s handshake--"he also made a few snidey (sic) comments,” Laimbeer said--and then assumed that they had better not soil their hands against the Pistons, either.
For the second day in a row, neither Bird nor the 7-foot Parish blocked a shot. Dennis Johnson didn’t score in double figures either day. The immortal Fred Roberts and Darren Daye scored more points in two games than Parish and Johnson did.
The Pistons, on the other hand, used their hands quite nicely. They sank 61 of 96 shots Sunday. They hammered Boston on the boards. They turned a four-point halftime lead into a rout by scoring 42 points in the third period. And they committed only seven turnovers all day.
Isiah Thomas, who led the league in turnovers, did not have one in either game here.
“Silverdome mystique,” he said.
It didn’t hurt the Pistons any that they had 27,387 people, the largest playoff crowd in their history, rooting for them and booing Bird every time he touched the ball. The team still hasn’t been beaten in a playoff game this season at the House of Isiah. “Now we’ve got to find some way to win at Boston Garden,” Laimbeer said.
No two arenas could be any different than that smokey little downtown barn and this 80,000-seat suburban football stadium. “It’s going from one extreme to the other,” Thomas said.
The Pistons continue to hope that they have tuckered the Celtics out. Their up-tempo attack is designed to leave the other team’s tongues dragging, and, as Dantley said: “After we saw the Milwaukee series, we figured we could run on them. The first two games, I just don’t think we played smart basketball. Maybe they (the Celtics) had something to do with that, but I still think if we keep running, we can take it to them, give them trouble.”
Daly said after losing the first two games, the Pistons’ only game plan was “to let it all hang out.”
He kept up the attack Sunday, running in fresh players whenever possible, and giving streak-shooting reserve guard Vinnie Johnson the green light to shoot 20 times in 30 minutes, more shots than anyone else on the floor was able to get off. Of Vinnie’s 25 points, 15 of them came in the second period.
Daly’s big regret was that while the Pistons did, indeed, tire the Celtics, the games were so one-sided that Boston Coach K.C. Jones ran up the white flag and gave his starters a rest. No Celtic played more than 33 minutes Sunday.
“I’m not sure what the fatigue factor is,” Daly said. “They’ve gone deeper into their bench than we have. I do know how much being here in the comfort zone helps. You sleep in your own bed, you have more energy--that’s why the home court is such an advantage in this league.”
With his own players tired and hurting, K.C. Jones wasn’t sure what else he could do except take up Ainge on his offer to suit up and play. The starting guard had spent the first three games of the series in street clothes, sucking Tootsie Pops on the sidelines.
“Ainge said he could go if I needed him, and the way things were going, we definitely needed him.”
Ainge’s 12 points didn’t matter a whole lot. Neither did Kevin McHale’s effort, which included nine rebounds and a couple of blocks in limited playing time. “Kevin was having a decent game, but he can’t carry a team on his back by himself,” Jones said.
What Jones needs most is somebody to volunteer to guard Dantley, who has come back from a mild slump to get 57 points in two games.
“That’s a must,” Jones said. “Although I’m damned if I know who it’ll be.”
Dantley sank 11 of 15 shots Sunday, and it figured that he was going to have a hot hand as soon as the game began, when he swished an 18-foot jump shot after a quadruple-pump. Not a double-pump. Not a triple-pump. Four. Talk about a piston.
His is the hand Boston has to worry about, not Laimbeer’s.
Thursday’s Game 6 at the Silverdome will not start until 9 p.m., Eastern time. . . . Larry Bird’s anger over being bulldogged to the floor Saturday by Bill Laimbeer built to the point that he said this: “He thinks he’s so tough, tell him to come at me. Be a man. Step up and do it. He wants the officials to protect him, he wants his teammates to come out and help him. Let everybody get out of the way and step up and do it.”