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THE NBA PLAYOFFS : Celtics Get the Win, but How Is Still a Point of Contention

Times Staff Writer

Dennis Johnson made the last six points of an ulcer-maker of a basketball game Thursday night, winning Game 2 of the National Basketball Assn.'s Eastern Conference championship series for the Boston Celtics, 119-115, in double overtime, and tying their series with the Detroit Pistons at a win apiece.

OK. So much for how the game was won.

Let’s go back to how the game was saved.

The place: Boston Garden. The time: 7 seconds left in the first overtime. The score: 109-106, Detroit. The ball: Boston’s.

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Roll the videotape.

Johnson in-bounds the ball. He looks for Larry Bird. So does the Detroit defense, which intends to foul whoever catches the pass.

Bird cuts toward the basket, just as Johnson throws the ball. It’s behind Bird. He’s missed it. Looks bad for the home five.

Wait a second. Kevin McHale of the Celtics finds the ball on the floor. He flings it toward the basket. With five seconds remaining, the ball goes in.

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The second three-point basket of McHale’s eight-year NBA career.

Game’s tied, 109-109.

Wait another second. The Pistons are outraged. McHale’s shoe was on the line, they say. The shot should count for only two points, they say. Not three. Detroit should still be leading by a point.

Let’s go to referee Jack Madden. Madden’s arms were up as soon as McHale took the shot. Arms up means the shot’s worth three.

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Get a second opinion, the Pistons say.

Madden sees how serious the Pistons are about this. He figures maybe somebody else had a better angle. He consults with his partner, referee Mike Mathis.

Mathis says sorry, he didn’t have a clear view. So, they both go over to the alternate official, Bill Saar, at the scorer’s table, to see what he thinks. Saar says: “I didn’t have a good angle, either. I was involved with the game clock.”

Way it goes, Madden says. “My original call stands.”

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The Pistons can’t believe it.

In the Detroit locker room, Isiah Thomas shakes his head. “Let’s go to the video,” he says.

Unfortunately, this is the NBA, not the NFL. Can’t be done. And, even if it could, play-by-play man Skip Caray came forward during all the commotion and told the referee: “Our replay’s inconclusive. No way we could call it with a replay. It’s that close.”

However, that didn’t stop anyone from having an opinion.

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“His foot was definitely on the line,” Detroit player Adrian Dantley says. “I was right there.”

“The man’s foot was on the line,” says teammate James Edwards. “Then the P.A. announcer calls it ‘three points’ and they decide to go with that. The man was on the line.”

“Don’t ask me about the three-pointer,” Boston Coach K.C. Jones says. “I just go with the officials.”

Thomas, in the other locker room, offers this biting analysis: “K.C. being the genius that he is . . . that was just great coaching, I’m sure. He designed the play so that the ball slips out of Bird’s hands, so McHale can pick it up off the floor and throw it in the basket before we get a chance to foul.”

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Now, back to Boston, and McHale’s thoughts: “I knew I was standing outside the line when I received the ball. But, maybe I jumped on the line when I shot it. Do you think I was actually worried about where my feet were? The last thing in the world I was thinking of was looking down at that line. Game’s almost over. What should I do--look down and say, ‘Gee, should I back up?’ ”

So, Detroit lost a game that it was leading by 3 points with 7 seconds to play. Worse, it lost a chance to go ahead 2 games to 0 in the series, with a chance to sweep the Celtics right out of the playoffs Saturday and Monday at the Pontiac Silverdome.

This was some game.

It was a game that Detroit led after one period. A game Boston led after two periods. A game Boston led after three. A game that Detroit would have won if Dantley had made two free throws instead of one with 11 seconds remaining in regulation play.

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It was a game tied, 102-102, going into overtime. An overtime Boston led, 106-102, with 90 seconds to go. An overtime in which Thomas converted a three-point play for a 106-106 tie. An overtime in which Thomas sank a three-point shot at 0:07, giving Detroit its 109-106 edge.

Then came McHale’s crazy shot. The only other three-pointer McHale ever made came in the 1983-84 season.

Then came the second overtime. McHale’s turnaround made it 111-109. Edwards made two free throws to tie. McHale answered with a hook. Joe Dumars’ jumper tied it again, 113-113.

Under two minutes now. A chance for a triple overtime, just like the one on June 4, 1975, when the Celtics beat the Phoenix Suns here, 128-126.

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Dennis Johnson picked Thomas clean. He stole the ball and raced for the basket, with Detroit’s Rick Mahorn in his way. He put up a wild shot. Missed.

Back came Detroit. Dumars whooshed another jumper for the lead. Johnson did likewise, though, tying the score, 115-115, with 1:24 left.

The Pistons missed twice. On the other end, Johnson drove hard. Dumars got in the way. He went sprawling. Foul on Dumars.

D.J. sank both free throws with 43 seconds remaining. Boston by two. Detroit set up a shot for Dantley, but it was long, and Robert Parish rebounded for Boston. Detroit could do nothing but foul. Thomas fouled Johnson, who swished both free throws at 0:09.

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Game, Celtics.

“I feel like I was just in a war,” Boston guard Danny Ainge said.

He was. It was a war with 68 free throws and 86 rebounds and 66 fouls and 36 turnovers and 17 steals and 11 blocked shots. It was a war that took 3 hours 6 minutes to settle, yet was decided in an instant that didn’t even show up on instant replay.

Parish led Boston with 26 points and 11 rebounds. McHale scored 24, Johnson 22 and Bird added 18, although the blond bomber’s shooting was way off again, 6 of 20.

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For Detroit, Thomas was the leader again, with 24 points, 11 assists and 3 steals. He also committed 8 turnovers.

At halftime, it appeared as though the Pistons were in for a long night. They were--but not in the way first thought.

They trailed, 53-46, at the half, and were not getting the best of the calls, getting whistled 16 times for personal fouls, while the Celtics were picking up only 7. Detroit shot just three free throws in the half.

One thing the Pistons did have going for them was the presence of center Bill Laimbeer, who had injured his right shoulder in Wednesday’s Game 1. Laimbeer was able to extend his streak of consecutive starts to 567 games.

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At a shootaround Thursday morning, Laimbeer said: “I know how much this Boston crowd loves me, so all I want to do is run out there for the introductions, wave to everybody and say, ‘I’m back!’ ”

Piston Coach Chuck Daly was worried about Laimbeer’s injured trapezius, although he did say he thought that was something you found in a circus. Laimbeer’s comeback pleased Daly, though, and the coach also had the support of his Aunt Honey, of St. Mary’s, Pa., who sent him an Irish banshee that was supposed to provide stronger magic than any Celtic leprechauns in the building.

Nothing helped the Pistons at the end of the first half, when they got off 2 shots and were guilty of 9 turnovers in their last 11 possessions. Detroit came back strong, though, tying things in the third quarter, then opening a lead to96-91 late in the fourth quarter.

The Pistons benefited from the continued bad aim of Bird--who, in his coach’s opinion, was “shooting 0 for 99 out there, or whatever. Larry was missing all his favorite shots,” Jones said. “I don’t know what Larry’s problem is. His arm motion doesn’t look familiar to me when he’s firing it up. He had one of the poorest nights I’ve ever seen him have as an outside shooter.”

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Bird could have won the game in regulation. He had 10 full seconds to operate, with the score tied, 102-102, but with Detroit’s John Salley draped over him, the best he could do with a 15-footer was hit the rim.

Bird said: “It seemed like everyone made a big play tonight except me. When D.J.'s pass went behind me, I thought, ‘That’s it. Detroit stole the ball.’ Then Kevin takes that shot. That was something.”

Yeah, something, the Pistons said.

“Shot shouldn’t have counted,” Edwards said.

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“It happened so fast,” Laimbeer said.

“Those lucky Celtics,” Salley said.

“The leprechaun beat the banshee,” Daly said. “The banshee got ‘em last night, but the leprechaun got even tonight.”

“Leprechauns,” Dantley said. “Bahhhhh.”

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