BOSTON — As great cures go, it doesn't rate with, say, the polio vaccine or penicillin.
But as a remedy for all that had been wrong with the Lakers, Magic Johnson's latest breakthrough--Byron Scott called it the "Right leg up, kiss it off the glass real sweet" shot--ranks right up there with the "junior, junior, junior sky-hook" Johnson unveiled in last season's NBA Finals.
And as usual, what was welcome medicine to the Lakers was pure poison for the Boston Celtics. The Celtics went numb Friday night when Johnson's running, one-legged, 22-foot right-hander from the left corner banked off the backboard and into the net with no time remaining, making a 115-114 Lazarus out of the Lakers before 14,890 disbelievers in Boston Garden.
"Tell 'em it was your play, Riles," a gleeful Michael Cooper teased Laker Coach Pat Riley, who was busy describing how A.C. Green was on his knees--was it in prayer or despair?--while Johnson's shot was airborne.
"It was my play," said Riley, who took advantage of a disputed timeout with three seconds left to tell the Lakers something they already knew--give the ball to Magic.
But then it was true confessions: "The running, one-hander off the left foot wasn't my doing," Riley said.
No, Johnson was the one who got it done, just as he had with the junior skyhook in Game 4 of the finals last June.
"I couldn't believe it went," said Darren Daye, who was watching from the Celtic bench on the opposite side of the court. "It was an absolute prayer."
O, ye of little faith. Johnson, who actually has taken that shot in practice when playing H-O-R-S-E for pocket change, said he never doubted the ball's final destination.
"You know, when I got it, I looked and I saw I had some room," Johnson said. "I said, 'Oh, man, that's all I need, some room.' "
Johnson may not have been lacking in floor space, but he did have 7-foot Robert Parish in his face.
"Chief (Parish) ran at him, and I thought he was going to make him miss it," Celtic forward Kevin McHale said. "Shooting a (near) three-pointer with a 7-footer on you, that's a hell of a shot.
"When he shot it, I thought, 'Good.' When he banked it in, I said, 'Bad.' "
And just like that, what Riley said would have been a crushing loss became, in his words, a crushing win.
"This is what I live for," Johnson said. "It's hard for me to explain to you, but this is the big time, the big moment, and you just look for it."
The Lakers appeared to be out of moments when Johnson fouled Boston's Danny Ainge with the score tied at 113-113 and three seconds left. But after breaking the tie, Ainge missed the second free throw, and referee Mike Mathis immediately signaled time out, even though McHale had knocked the rebound out of Mychal Thompson's hands.
"I looked at it after the game," McHale said, "and two guys had their hands on the ball. We might as well have called the timeout, we had as much possession as they did."
Mathis said that Michael Cooper had come to him before Ainge took the free throws and asked for a timeout whether the shots were made or missed. As soon as Thompson grabbed the ball, Cooper yelled for the timeout, according to the official.
"I had possession of the ball," said Thompson, who had been all but invisible until he hit two critical jumpers in a row to help wipe out a six-point Boston lead with 2:33 to go.
"I lost it because he (McHale) hit my hand," Thompson said. "It was a quick whistle, but the right whistle."
The quick whistle was followed by instant death for the Celtics, who seemingly had the game in hand with a 13-point lead, 71-58, in the third quarter. At that point, Larry Bird already had scored 29 of his 35 points, and James Worthy was about to call it a night after only 14 minutes because his left knee had quit on him again.
But then, almost--pardon the expression--magically, all the things that had broken down for the Lakers on this trip worked just like the '86-'87 model.
Remember Byron Scott, whose jumper has been known to disappear through the cracks in the parquet floor? He scored 21 points Friday night on 8-of-15 shooting, including a three-pointer.
Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, good for only seven points against the Randy Breuers of the world, responded to the challenge of playing one-on-one against Robert Parish by scoring 23 points, 9 in the fourth quarter.
Abdul-Jabbar had a chance to break a 113-113 tie but was trapped in the corner by Parish and threw up an airball that was rebounded by Bird with 13 seconds left.
Cooper, who two nights earlier had played one of his worst games in memory (2 points in 42 minutes, 3 turnovers in overtime), bounced back with a season-high 21 points and hounded Bird into a four-point fourth quarter. He also hit the three-pointer with 45 seconds to go that tied the score at 113-113.
"It was a lot of fun," Bird's shadow said. "He plays you hard, he plays you tough. The last three or four times he came in here, he scored some big points for them.
"I thought he did a good job keeping them in the game when they had to be."