Heat Is On as Pistons, Celtics Go to a 7th Game
So, back from Motown to Beantown we go, one more time, once and for all. Enough already. Let’s go. Let’s settle this thing like men, no sexism intended. Somebody has to play the Lakers, sometime. Before July, we expect. So, come on. Come and get it. Time for a 3,000-mile checkup.
The hands and hearts of the Detroit Pistons kept pumping Thursday night. They sweated out Game 6 of the Eastern Conference finals and beat the Boston Celtics, 113-105, at the sauna-like Silverdome, where they still haven’t lost in this year’s National Basketball Assn. playoffs.
Next hothouse: Boston Garden, Saturday, 12:30 p.m., Pacific time, seventh game of a seven-game series. Winner gets to come West, for Beverly Hills Hoops. The heat is on.
The Celtics will have their coach, K.C. Jones, back from his mother’s funeral, and their center, Robert (Chief Thunderfist) Parish, back from a one-game suspension for fighting, and their loud and rowdy crowd, back at their side. They won’t have as many fans on hand as the Pistons did Thursday--28,383--but they will have 16 championship banners blowing in, hopefully, the breeze. Please, let there be a breeze.
It hit 93 degrees in the Michigan suburbs Thursday, and inside the Silverdome, it was hot enough to grow orchids. “The heat was enormous,” said Detroit’s Rick Mahorn, who also is. “Probably the hottest I’ve experienced since we were in Phoenix.”
“It reminded me of that Game 7 between L.A. and Boston a couple of years ago,” Detroit Coach Chuck Daly said. Actually, that was Game 5 of the 1984 championship series, but the poor guy can be excused if he happens to have Game 7 on the brain. This one just happens to be the biggest of his team’s life.
The Detroit franchise, since being situated here, has only been in one Game 7 before this, a playoff game against the Chicago Bulls that they lost. The Celtics, meanwhile, get into Game 7s the way some people get into cabs. They are 12-2 in such postseason games at home, and 15-3 in their history.
Had it not been for Larry Bird’s steal and Dennis Johnson’s last-gasp basket Tuesday night, however, the Detroit guys already would be motoring toward the Coast. The Celtics escaped that night, thanks to heads-up play by their superstars and thanks to a foolish pass by Piston superstar Isiah Thomas, who later telephoned Laker superstar Magic Johnson. “He made me feel a lot better,” Thomas said.
But now, what? Can the Pistons handle this? Do they have it in them? They have outplayed the Celtics in this series, if you choose to get technical about it, but you do not add up total points, you add up victories, and these particular teams have three apiece. Neither has figured out how to win on the road.
“Who knows? Sooner or later, you’ve got to get a victory there. They can’t keep beating us there forever,” said Piston guard Vinnie Johnson, who came off the bench and made the difference in Thursday’s game for the Pistons with 24 points.
While Boston’s starting guards, Dennis Johnson (3 of 17) and Danny Ainge (6 of 18), couldn’t hit the broad side of a dome, Detroit got fine marksmanship from Thomas (10 of 19) and Vinnie Johnson (9 of 15), who didn’t seem to mind the heat a bit. It was VJ day, not DJ day. “We’re still trying to figure out why Vinnie gets so hot against us,” Dennis said.
Also making a big difference was the forgotten big dude of Detroit’s front line, Mahorn, who hasn’t been mentioned much this series, what with the full-contact karate being practiced by Bill Laimbeer, Parish and Bird. Mahorn, better known as “McFilthy” to Celtic radio voice Johnny Most, who used to call Mahorn and Jeff Ruland of the Washington Bullets “McFilthy and McNasty,” yanked down 18 rebounds against Boston in the 7-foot Parish’s absence.
Mahorn made a difference. Vinnie made a difference. So did Adrian Dantley, with 24 points, 14 of them in the first quarter. But what really got the Pistons through the night was the beginning of the final quarter, when they turned an 83-all standoff into a 94-83 runaway. With eight quick points from Vinnie Johnson, the Pistons ran off an 18-4 run to start the fourth period. And it was actually 19-4, counting a free throw that ended the third.
Until then, the Celtics had hustled and muscled, best they could. Bird’s 35 points kept them going, as did the flu-bothered, injury-bothered, hot-and-bothered Kevin McHale’s 23 points and 12 boards. If Boston’s guards could have done a wee bit better than 1 of 8 from three-point country, an upset could have happened, and K.C. Jones could have saved himself a coast-to-coast plane trip. The Celtics would have been playing in Inglewood on Sunday.
Then again, this series might be over right now in Detroit’s favor if not for what has been happening, or rather not been happening, at the free-throw stripe over the last six games.
In the series, Boston is 152 of 190 at the line, Detroit 115 of 169.
“I don’t know who our foul-shooting coach is, but I’m going to find out,” Daly half-joked.
Yeah, and while he’s at it, he might be just a little curious why, going into Game 6, his Pistons had been given 36 fewer chances. Worth wondering about, anyway.
Well, the Pistons probably have enough to worry about, going to the Garden and all. After the amazing ending to the last game there, Darren Daye of the Celtics said: “Now I know what they mean about the Garden and ghosts.”
Ghosts, they say, have helped the Celts win over the years. They blow those banners and blow those free throws away. They probably blew Bill Laimbeer down, since the officials never did see anybody punch the guy.
Laimbeer’s ready for the return match. “It’s a one-game shootout now,” he said.
Thomas is ready, too. “It’s down to one game, and may the best team win. Us, I hope.”
And Bird is ready, of course. “It doesn’t matter if it’s hot or not, because we could play it outdoors at 95 degrees and everybody’d still come to play. This one gets you to the championships. We’ll all be ready.”
Dennis Rodman, the Detroit rookie, thinks he’ll be ready, but he isn’t sure.
“I keep hearing about these ghosts,” he said. “Do they really have ghosts.”
Notes Interim coach Jimmie Rodgers, who ran the Celtics in K.C. Jones’ absence, said Robert Parish definitely will play in Game 7. Parish has a sprained left ankle. . . . Bill Laimbeer on whether he saw the replay of Parish punching him: “Why should I? I’ve seen myself get tagged before.”. . . . At a press conference Thursday on another matter, Coleman Young, the tough-talking mayor of Detroit, took a moment to criticize the “churlish behavior” of Parish, then added: “I hope those blind officials from Tuesday’s game won’t reappear for Game 6.” . . . Darren Daye, who had 16 points, made his first start of the playoffs for Boston, opening at forward with Kevin McHale moving to center to replace Parish. It was not Daye’s first start since his UCLA days, though. He made the opening tip three times when he was with the Washington Bullets.
Game 6 was fight-free, but just barely. Danny Ainge almost got into it twice, once daring Detroit guard Joe Dumars to come at him after Dumars objected to a hard foul. . . . Game 1 of the NBA finals will now be Tuesday at the Forum. . . . A Boston radio talk show is lobbying for Laker broadcaster Chick Hearn and the Celtics’ Johnny Most to trade places for one night during the NBA finals. Yeah, sure. When Larry Bird wears goggles. . . . Really going out on a limb in CBS-TV’s live interview at halftime Thursday, Pat Riley said the Lakers want to play “the first available opponent.”
Detroit’s Dumars, who always hustles, just laughed when praised for his desire and hard work. “Man, I used to work in a power plant during the summer. At least 100 degrees every day. I was a common laborer--hard hat and rubber boots. The money was good, but it was work, hard work. Playing basketball, that’s fun.”