NBA PLAYOFFS / EASTERN CONFERENCE SEMIFINALS : Laimbeer on Target, Celtics on the Ropes

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Robert Parish twisted his left ankle three times Wednesday night and skipped the second half. Larry Bird's back is treated like a Ming vase. Kevin McHale has been playing with torn ligaments in his left ankle since February, Reggie Lewis with back problems since December. The Boston Celtics are used to playing games on a day-to-day basis.

But now the Celtic season is day to day. Detroit came into Boston Garden and left with a 116-111 victory for a 3-2 series lead in the Eastern Conference semifinals and the chance to advance to meet Chicago with a victory at home Friday.

The taped-together Celtics showed enough movement to make it more than a little interesting, despite getting only 12 minutes from Parish and after being down by 18 points midway through the third quarter and 13 heading into the fourth. They were tied as late as 106-106, before the Pistons, going for their fifth consecutive trip to the Eastern Conference final, had a 6-0 run to end the comeback hopes.

"We had to go back anyway," McHale said. "We may as well go back to win."

The Grating One, Bill Laimbeer, was atop the hit list, except that he was doing the hitting, 24 points and perhaps the six biggest of the game.

In a 100-100 game, he connected from 18 feet straight out with 3:24 left.

At 102-102, he hit from the right corner with 2:10 to go.

At 106-106, a 20-foot jumper from the left side gave the Pistons a lead they would never relinquish, with a little help. Lewis and Dee Brown committed back-to-back offensive fouls to waste a pair of opportunities in the final 21 seconds.

In the meantime, Detroit got two free throws each from Mark Aguirre and Joe Dumars, two of his game-high 32 points that included 13-of-13 shooting from the line. The Celtics' last gasp was a three-pointer by McHale, followed by Brown's basket, but the Pistons got four more free throws from Dumars, who played 44 minutes.

"We read in the paper that they (the Celtics) talked about rebounding, rebounding, rebounding," Laimbeer said. "So we said we would talk shooting, shooting, shooting."

Laimbeer's problem was not whether he could talk a good game. After opening the playoffs by making five of eight three-pointers against Atlanta, he was zero for seven against the Celtics. His success was not much better from shorter range--34% in the series coming in and 39.4% in the first nine postseason games.

"I haven't taken bad shots," he said. "I just wasn't making them. But I felt like it would be one of those nights the first couple minutes. Isiah (Thomas) found me for some easy shots, trying to get me on track."

Indeed, Laimbeer had 12 of his points in the first half, making three of five shots as the Pistons shot 56.5% to take a 65-55 lead at intermission.

"When we first came into the game, I knew he wasn't taking many shots and he was still working as hard," Thomas said. "I didn't want him to have an 0-for-3 quarter. I wanted him to get off. When he's on his game offensively, he bothers the other team."

Consider the Celtics bothered.

"Those guys made some big shots," McHale said, also citing Dumars, Vinnie Johnson (24 points) and Aguirre (18 off the bench). "Give them credit."

No final tally in this series can be complete without a rehabilitation rundown of the stars. Bird played 41 minutes, was seven of 18 from the field and had 16 points, 10 in the fourth quarter. Thomas, back after missing Game 4 with a sprained right foot, went 15 minutes off the bench and missed both shots, though he did have six assists without a turnover.

Parish?

He's day to day.

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