A white-haired Bostonian still in shock, though one of the few near Gene Shue who could be described as proper, called it "A Paul Revere shot."
"A what?" Shue said. He had been jostled and cursed by some fans, pushed back against a wall and forced to explain the why of this latest Bullet miracle over and over for suddenly incredulous scribes on deadline. His mind had been exceptional, inventive, daring, able to put the past and future into one audacious play. But this moment an hour later in a quiet corridor was too much to comprehend.
"What kind of shot?" he asked again.
"Shot heard 'round the world."
The coach smiled at this twist of history and said, yes, he'd have another beer at that.
It was an ending that defied belief. First off, the Bullets are willing to admit Jack Madden back into the human race. Jack Madden, for whom they never have a civil word, the referee who quick-technicaled Rick Mahorn out of a late regular-season game against Boston in Capital Centre and got owner Abe Pollin livid enough to growl to the NBA office, gave them a chance to beat the mighty Celtics tonight.
"No question Mr. Madden gave us a good shake at the end," Jeff Ruland admitted.
What Mr. Madden did was make up for an awful call by his partner, Ed Middleton, by being the only person in Boston Garden to see Robert Parish sin on a wild miss by Larry Bird with 10 seconds left in the game. A few seconds earlier, this saint in sneakers had given the Bullets the benefit of the doubt on a questionable call and Greg Ballard sank two free throw.
Madden being on their side back to back in the palm-wringing moments of a big game bedazzled the Bullets. Could this be an omen? Might the hoop gods be smiling once more on this nice little team that tries?
Whatever, no way was Gene Shue going to play safe at the end.
No way Gene Shue would be timid. Go for the tie, two points, at the end and the Celtics either win in regulation or overtime. It's happened so often. Once more might be too much for the Bullets, in this NBA playoff series and the future.
"The perfect time for it," Shue had said earlier, after being forced to take this postgame mob-scene interview inside the Bullet dressing room by obnoxious fans who--so help me, Abe--had insisted Madden was on Washington's payroll.
"We'd played great," he said, "And we haven't won in this place (in the last six games, since March 9, 1980, to be exact). The right time to go for three. We've got to win over the Celtics (who had beaten Washington the last seven games).
"We've got to change things. You can't keep saying 'We can do it, we can do it' and then not do it. We had to chance it."
They gave Frank Johnson another chance. All he'd done the other 41-plus minutes he was on the court was hold Washington's fate in his small hands. When Johnson was great, fast, smart and unerring, the Bullets had a chance. When he reverted to rookie habits, throwing the ball away three times in a short Celtic burst, the Bullets were dreadful.
So the little man whose choice as the Bullets' first-round selection had been booed was going to be pivotal in a critical playoff game again. He helped clip the Nets in the first round; he sank the Celts from afar tonight.
Two points wouldn't do it for Shue. No ties for him with the Bullets down, 102-100. He was going to let Johnson fling it, somehow get the ball and try to work off picks by who Cedric Maxwell calls "The Beef Brothers," Ruland and Rick Mahorn, and flip something rimward from 28 feet or so.
"One thing when he tries those three-pointers," said assistant Bernie Bickerstaff, "he doesn't leave any margin for error."
Even an unreformed Madden could not have failed to called it a three-pointer. Johnson even landed outside the three-point line.
"Earlier in the year," Johnson said, "I would have hurried it." In fact, he remembered missing a long two-pointer with the game on the line against the Celtics in Capital Centre.
"I was very calm tonight," he added.
Until M.L. Carr missed a long lunge with Boston's last shot. The Bullets, in fact everybody in the Garden, waited a few counts before reacting to the miss. It was as though they expected whatever a Celtic threw up would go in. An even uglier heave by Danny Ainge had broken Bullet hearts earlier at home.
"Exactly," Johnson said of that lingering doubt, even after Carr's shot banged high off the rim. "You're never sure against those guys until the buzzer sounds."
This time Ainge was on the sad end, sent in to guard Johnson on that grand shot but lost somewhere in the crowd, picked off by a beef brother.
In his 42 minutes, Johnson had 21 points and eight assists. He had just one turnover the second half.
"Spencer (Haywood) said at halftime I had to penetrate more," Johnson said, "go for the basket more to open up the outside game. Tonight, we played 48 minutes against 'em, not 24 like we did (in a Game 1 loss) Sunday."
The Celts sent Tiny Archibald and Gerald Henderson at Johnson at various times, and Johnson went right at them on the other end of the court. He had nine more points than both of them.
In Boston Coach Bill Fitch's mind, the Celtics lost in the last seconds, but were beaten in the third quarter.
"I kept thinking, three-four-five times," he said, "that we can't win doing things like that back then. You just want to tear up a blackboard after something like that. We kept letting them get offensive boards.
"But no excuses. You can say 'I should have done it. I could have done it.' But the point is we didn't do it. We just got outplayed. And if we don't admit that, it'll happen again."