Mystique, mystique, has anybody seen our mystique?
The Celtics' bodies may be aching and wracked with pain. They may be down, 2-0, in the NBA finals with a lot more expectations in the world of a Laker sweep than a Celtic comeback. They may be an underdog in Boston Garden for the first time in the 1980s in Game 3, but they have their mystique to fall back on.
They may have little else, in fact, going, so every little superstition helps.
"What is the Celtic mystique?" Pat Riley said Saturday, feigning ignorance. "I'm not exactly sure what theirs is."
Oh yeah, right, like every body's got a mystique, with sagging floors, retired numbers, miraculous finishes, etc.
"We're going to take care of that--I mean at home," Riley said. "We're going to hang banners. We don't have anyone who smokes a cigar but . . .
"We've won four of our last five games here (three of five, actually). We feel good about coming here. It still comes down to that 94x50 piece of hardwood. I've always believed the Garden inspired the Celtics more than it bothered opponents. But it didn't affect Philadelphia the year they beat them here (in 1982's Game 7)."
Never before has so much been asked of the mystique. The Lakers have had 20-point leads in each of the first two games. The Celtics have a defensive average of 133.5.
If the Celtics' spirits haven't been broken, they can't stand much more weight on them. Larry Bird says a loss today would finish them, a remarkable bit of candor.
"The home court is definitely an advantage," said Danny Ainge. "How much of an advantage, I don't know.
"If the home-court advantage is 6 points and the Lakers are 20 points better than us, it's not going to help much."
Like it or not, the Celtics do have a special aura, built on a long series of improbable victories.
The Lakers have won when they were the best team . . . sometimes.
The Celtics have won when they were the best team and the second-best team. They won when they were the fourth-best team in their conference in '69 when they beat the West-Baylor-Chamberlain team. They won when they were 3-1 behind in series (Philadelphia, '68 and '81), and when they were behind in games (110-102 in the last 5:40 of Game 7 to Milwaukee, 105-104 in the last :05 to Detroit, both this spring).
1957--The Celtics win a two-overtime Game 7 at the Garden, 125-123, for the championship. St. Louis, trailing by two, has the ball with :01 left. Alex Hannum tries a long pass off the backboard to Bob Pettit. Amazingly, it works. Pettit gets the ball, goes up . . . and leaves the ball on the rim. Title No. 1.
1965--Bill Russell is about to be the goat, throwing an in-bounds pass off a guy wire to give the 76ers, down 110-109, the ball back in the closing seconds. Hal Greer inbounds. John Havlicek intercepts. The Celtics go on to title No. 6.
1968--The Celtics, blown away the year before by the Chamberlain-Walker-Jackson-Cunningham-Greer 76ers, behind, 3-1, force Game 7 at the Spectrum. Chamberlain takes two shots--both taps, both misses--in the second half. The Celtics win and go on to No. 8.
1969--The Celtics finish fourth in the East, trail the Lakers in the finals, 3-2, force Game 7 and win it at the Forum. Chamberlain asks out with an injury and Bill van Breda Kolff won't put him back in. Don Nelson makes a key shot that takes a high bounce off the rim and falls through. No. 9.
1973--Down, 3-1, to the Knicks, with Havlicek playing with a separated right shoulder, they force Game 7 at the Garden. Havlicek, playing left-handed, gets 18 points, 6 rebounds and 6 assists in Game 5, nine points in Game 6, whereupon the Boston Globe's Bob Ryan, eyeing a finals match-up with the Lakers, writes: "It's not too soon to start whistling 'California, Here We Come.' " The Knicks win Game 7 and several New York writers whistle it to Ryan.
1981--Down, 3-1, to the 76ers, down six points without the ball in the last 1:40 of Game 5, down 10 points in the third period of Game 6 when Cedric Maxwell goes into the Spectrum stands after a fan, down seven in the last 5:00 of Game 7, the Celtics prevail. They beat Houston for No. 14.
1982--Down, 3-1, to the 76ers, they force another Game 7 at the Garden. Garden fans, hoping to fix a choke in Sixer heads during Game 5, chant "See you Sunday." The teams return Sunday but the 76ers win.
1984--The Celtics trail the Lakers, 1-0, at the Garden and are about to lose again when Gerald Henderson steals James Worthy's pass in the backcourt for a layup. Celtics win in overtime. In Game 3, the Lakers blow them out, 137-104, and Larry Bird calls his teammates "quitters." Boston prevails under sauna-like conditions in the Garden in Game 7. No. 15.
1987--Having lost a 3-1 lead over the Bucks, trailing, 110-102, in Game 7, the Celtics hold Milwaukee without a field goal in the last 5:40 to win Game 7. Trailing the Pistons by one point in Game 6, Bird steals Isiah Thomas' pass and hits Dennis Johnson for the winning layup. In Game 7, the Pistons effectively lose top guns Adrian Dantley and Vinnie Johnson, who bump heads going for a loose ball. The Celtics go ahead to stay late in the fourth quarter after five offensive rebounds give Ainge a three-point try, which he hits.
Mystique can't do it alone. What else is left for the Celtics? Prayer? Getting physical? Red Auerbach suiting up?
Bet on physical. The Celtics know they can't run with the Lakers, so they'd better start getting a piece of them where they can. Bird started the let's-get-physical talk after Game 2.
"Whether that means they're going to be more aggressive," said Riley, "or cross the line. . . .
"We've been through all those games with the Celtics. I called them thugs three years ago. They called us chokers. We've been through all that. I hope by now the teams respect each other and we can just play basketball."
For the Celtics, just basketball may not do it. They need to raise their games to levels that may no longer be available to them.
So they drop a dime in the jukebox, dial up an oldie--Play Misty For Me--and hope for the best.