PONTIAC, Mich. — Bill Laimbeer threw Larry Bird to the floor. Bird threw a punch at Laimbeer. Spectators threw objects at Bird. Bird threw the basketball at Laimbeer. The officials threw Bird and Laimbeer out of the game.
Well, that was the story of Saturday's National Basketball Assn. Eastern Conference finals game, which brought Wrestlemania back to the Pontiac Silverdome.
What? The score? Oh, yeah. Almost forgot. The Detroit Pistons finally got the best of the Boston Celtics, 122-104, after messing up the first two games of the series, and will try to even things up today at 12:30 p.m., Pacific time, on your fight station, Channel 2. They now are guaranteed at least one more visit to the indoor combat zone, Boston Garden, where Laimbeer will be made to feel about as welcome as a Detroit cop in Beverly Hills.
The basketball-related details of Game 3 are these:
--Detroit led by 20 points at halftime. The same team that scored 91 points in Game 1 of the series scored 73 this time in the first half .
--Adrian Dantley, who had not scored 25 points in any of his last seven playoff games, got 25 this time in the first half . He never did get another point, but only because the Pistons were so far ahead, they only let him play eight more minutes.
--The Celtics, who were so out of it that their leading scorer turned out to be Sam Vincent with a career-high 18 points, not only lost Bird because of the fight with 10:08 to play, but lost center Robert Parish for the entire second half because he re-sprained his left ankle. Parish is expected to play in today's game, however.
--The Pistons, who were such butterfingers at Boston that they looked as though they were playing on a Parkay floor, committed only nine turnovers in this game, compared to 23 for the Celtics. Bird alone had as many turnovers--five--as Detroit's entire starting lineup.
--The Pistons won so comfortably that they did not even blink at being cited four times for illegal defense.
Well, enough basketball for now. On with the fight.
Early in the fourth quarter, Bird went up for a shot, maybe five feet to the right of the hoop. Detroit's Dennis Rodman went up with him. And just as this was happening, and as the 24-second shot clock was expiring, the husky, 6-foot 11-inch Laimbeer arrived on the scene, and appeared to horse-collar Bird to the floor.
Laimbeer has a reputation for roughhouse tactics, and just the other day, Boston Coach K.C. Jones showed his players a videotape of Detroit's Laimbeer and Rick Mahorn pulverizing Atlanta's Dominique Wilkins on a drive to the basket. "I want you to watch this. I want you to know what you can expect," Jones reportedly told his team.
When Laimbeer knocked the Celtics' best player for a loop Saturday, the men in green saw red. Bird, who had jawed at Laimbeer earlier in the game, had to be pulled off the Detroit center, and then, after being separated, he hurled the ball at least 15 feet at Laimbeer. "The referee wanted the ball, and he (Laimbeer) just happened to be in the way," Bird fibbed.
He was able to joke about that, but not about the play that caused the trouble. Bird kept saying the same thing, again and again: "No comment. Watch the film. Watch the film. All you got to do is get a good look at it and judge it on your own and see whose fault it was.
"Everybody's got their own opinion. He's gonna have his side of it. I think I was in the right. Get your own opinion. Watch the film."
"What happened was, Bird went up for a shot, and Rodman knocked him off balance, and all of a sudden I grabbed Bird to break my fall. He obviously thought I was throwing him down."
Informed what Bird had to say about it, Laimbeer asked: "Well, did you watch the replay? What did it tell you?"
Frankly, he was told, it did not look like breaking a fall. It looked like breaking a neck.
"Oh, come on," Laimbeer said. "Get serious."
The Celtics were serious--extremely serious.
"When Larry went up, he was slammed to the floor," K.C. Jones said. "That is much the same thing that happened to Wilkins, which I thought was a good way to end someone's career. I can understand fouling to prevent a shot, but to slam someone to the floor, that's not what basketball is about, and I'm really disappointed in Laimbeer."
Boston guard Jerry Sichting said: "Laimbeer just grabbed him by the neck after the whistle had blown and threw him down. What he did was over the line. And we've seen it on before. We saw it on film just before we played these guys; this is not an isolated incident. And we're not going to just stand there and watch somebody throw our 30-point-a-game scorer on his head like that, I guarantee you."
Sichting, who got into a fight with Houston's Ralph Sampson in last year's NBA finals, said: "I think Larry counter-punched much better than I did. I just hope he doesn't mess up any fingers on Laimbeer's face."