Four thousand two hundred sixty-two games and never, ever a
whupping like it. In Game 1 of their first-round Eastern
Conference playoff series last Friday night, the No. 8-seeded
Boston Celtics, they of the 16 NBA championship banners hanging
from the rafters, lost by a franchise-record 47 points to the No.
1-seeded Orlando Magic, they of the three disco mirror balls
suspended from the roof of the Orlando Arena. There haven't been
so many red faces in Beantown since that Dukakis fellow lost by 30
states. After Friday's fiasco it appeared certain that Wednesday's
Game 3 not only would mark the final basketball game at the
condemned Boston Garden, but also that there might not be need for
a wrecking ball. The old lady might just crumble on her own under
the stress of the Shaq attack.
Then came Sunday afternoon in the Magic Kingdom, and the Celtics
created their own Fantasyland, rejiggering the outcome from the
opener a mere 54 points in their favor. Somehow they exorcised the
47-point loss and won by seven. Fortunately for Boston, nobody was
harping on margins of victory. All that mattered was the line in
agate type that read MAGIC 1, CELTICS 1 and the rather astounding
fact that beside Game 4, to be played this Friday, it no longer
read if necessary.
And Boston wasn't alone in its reversal of fortune. All around the
first-round, best-of-five playoff landscape, lower-seeded
visiting teams had been thrashed in a Game 1 and then, stunningly,
had won a Game 2. After losing by 25 points to the No. 4-seeded
Seattle SuperSonics in the opener of their Western Conference
series, the No. 5-seeded Los Angeles Lakers resurrected themselves
with a two-point win in Game 2 (and on Monday night in L.A. took
the series lead with a 105-101 triumph). In the Eastern
Conference, after a 24-point drubbing in Game 1, the undermanned,
overachieving, No. 6-seeded Cleveland Cavaliers bounced back to
lull the No. 3-seeded New York Knicks into a 90-84 Game 2 upset
(then the Knicks themselves rebounded to win Monday's Game 3 in
Cleveland 83-81). The Houston Rockets and the Chicago Bulls (page
40) also stole one game each on the road (against, respectively,
the higher-seeded Utah Jazz and Charlotte Hornets), but those
victories were almost expected from two teams that together have
collected the last four NBA titles.
There were still two minutes left in Celtic coach Chris Ford's
nightmare at the O-rena on Friday when he conjured up the notion
that his troops should meet later that evening in the ballroom of
the team hotel to bear witness to the crime they had just
committed. Ford, whose words often speak louder than his actions,
didn't rant and rave this time -- he simply screened the videotape
of the Magic's 124-77 blowout. ``When we were watching the film,
he didn't raise his voice even once,'' said Celtic forward Dino
Radja. ``He didn't panic, so we didn't panic.''
``I'm not a genius,'' Ford said. ``I was going to watch the film
anyway, so I figured I might as well have some company. I
thought if the players just disbanded then, who knows what would
have crept into their minds?''
Among the Magic tricks that Ford uncovered while watching the
replay was Orlando's trapping of Boston point guard Sherman
Douglas as he charged up the floor with the ball. The Magic's aim:
to force a Celtic other than Douglas to create the offense. So
Ford instructed shooting guard Dee Brown to bring the ball up and
let Douglas run off the picks normally set for Brown. Douglas
improved his production from eight points and six assists in the
opener to 20 points and 15 assists.
Another critical move occurred during Saturday's practice when
Radja asked Ford if he could return to the starting lineup. Radja
had begged out of the starting five back in late March, believing
he could be more effective off the pine (he was replaced by Derek
Strong). But he craved a measure of revenge after being dominated
by Orlando's Horace Grant in the opening playoff game, in which
Radja scored but 10 points (17 below his season average against
the Magic). Radja got his retaliation in Game 2, starting and
winding up with 18 points and eight boards.
But the key to the Celtic game plan was simply to stay in the
contest and monitor the heart of a Magic team that had lost three
straight games to the Indiana Pacers in an opening-round collapse
last season. Sure enough, in the fourth quarter of Game 2, Orlando
looked as if it needed a defibrillator, shooting only 4 for 23
from the floor and sinking just one meaningless hoop during the
game's final 5:29. Said Brown afterward, ``They had some guys who
looked like they didn't want to shoot the ball at the end.''
As the Magic retreated to its locker room, the Orlando players
could not ignore coach Brian Hill's cautionary pregame message
that was still on the blackboard. It reminded them that New York,
Seattle and Utah had been vanquished at home the day before. At
least the Magic had been forewarned.
One of those surprises noted on the blackboard had been
manufactured by Los Angeles. Ironically, it was another Celtic
beating, this one perpetrated by the men in green, that was used
as inspiration to revive the Lakers after their 96-71 surrender in
Thursday's Game 1. Following Friday's practice, L.A. vice
president Magic Johnson and assistant coach Michael Cooper told
the Lakers about the Memorial Day Massacre in 1985, in which Los
Angeles lost by 34 points at the Boston Garden in Game 1 of the
NBA Finals. Magic, Coop, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Co. bounced back
to win Game 2 and eventually captured the NBA title (chart, page
37). The current Lakers, many of whom were in grade school back
then, nodded their heads and checked flight schedules back to L.A.
But a funny thing happened on the way to the Forum.
After his team had unraveled in the opener, Laker coach Del Harris
studied film until 4 a.m. Friday, all by himself, and concluded
that Los Angeles's problem was spacing, both mental and physical.
He believed that after dropping seven of their last eight games
during the regular season, the Lakers had lost focus and
confidence. They were also bunching up on the court, which led to
fewer open shots. ``We worked on that in practice, which I thought
helped produce much better passing in Game 2,'' Harris said.
``Then we took a lot of shots so that the players could get a feel
for that court and get some confidence back in their shooting.''
The extra work benefited All-Star forward Cedric Ceballos, who had
scored two points on just 1 for 10 shooting in the opener but came
through with a team-high 25 points in the second game, despite
fleeing the court briefly in the third quarter when he became sick
to his stomach. ``I didn't want to be gun-shy,'' said Ceballos,
who knocked down six three-pointers. ``I wanted to keep taking my
What the Sonics could not do, Mother Nature could. Late in the
fourth quarter the Lakers were thwarted briefly when lightning
struck near the Tacoma Dome, causing a blackout that delayed the
game for 23 minutes with L.A. leading by eight points. (``That's
an old trick,'' Harris said. ``You get behind, and the lights go
out.'') When the lights were restored, Ceballos continued to shoot
them out, draining his final three-pointer, and the Lakers
withstood a Seattle charge to escape with an 84-82 triumph.
The Sonics insisted the lights would not go out prematurely on
their season. But like Orlando, Seattle was in jeopardy of
flopping in the first round for the second year in a row. ``This
game has nothing to do with what happened against Denver last
season,'' declared Sonic forward Detlef Schrempf, recalling
Seattle's embarrassing loss to the Nuggets. ``We fell apart as a
team last year, but that isn't going to happen this time.''
Don't talk to the Cleveland Cavaliers about falling apart. This is
a team that lost two of its starters (center Brad Daugherty and
guard Gerald Wilkins) to injury even before the season started.
Then, on the eve of the playoffs, another key player, All-Star
forward Tyrone Hill, developed a serious fear of flying. After a
hairy flight home from Cleveland's final regular-season game in
Charlotte, the petrified Hill opted to take an eight- hour auto
ride to New York instead of traveling the unfriendly skies. Come
to think of it, all of Hill's teammates looked as if they'd
suffered through a bad bout of turbulence after the Knicks'
blowout 103-79 win in Game 1 on Thursday.
But the Cavaliers, whose playoff losing streak had now reached
eight games, finally broke it Saturday by transforming the second
game into an eyesore. Cleveland coach Mike Fratello ordered his
team to slow the tempo to a near standstill and to limit
possessions. The Cavs prevailed despite taking only 53 shots, a
playoff-record low. (Four were successful three-pointers by
Cleveland forward Chris Mills, whose final trey with 20 seconds
left iced the game.) That scarcity was the result of just two
offensive rebounds, another playoff record for futility, and 24
turnovers. ``You could probably say that everybody in the United
States is shocked, everybody but the guys on this team,'' said
Cleveland center John (Hot Rod) Williams. ``We don't quit.''
For their part the Knicks, who have recently been known to do a
little talking to their opponents on the court, began barking at
one another on Saturday. ``We got rattled and started bickering
with each other,'' New York center Patrick Ewing acknowledged. The
sniping centered around a common theme for these Knicks, the lack
of ball distribution. The disagreement led to a postgame team
meeting organized by oft-gunning guard John Starks -- ``Of all
people,'' one Knick told the New York Daily News. He added,
``We've got selfish guys on this team, guys who want to score all
After the bitter loss Knick coach Pat Riley seemed to speak for
his team and others when he said, ``You know, in just 36 hours you
go from being one of the great teams with one of the great
performances to total humility.''
Meanwhile, facing a flight back to Cleveland, Hill held out his
left hand, and the Cavs' team doctor passed him a sleeping pill,
which moments later took its desired somnambulant effect.
The Magic, Sonics and Knicks already knew the feeling.
Last week's Game 1 blowout losers turned Game 2 comeback winners
hope to emulate such predecessors as these.
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