BOSTON — 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.
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.
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.
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."
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.
"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."
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.
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.
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.