Drama has been a missing element at the conference semifinal level of the NBA playoffs, but it could return Sunday when the Pistons and Boston Celtics play Game 4 in their best-of-seven series.

The Celtics lead, two games to one.

Depending on who's doing the talking, Sunday's game, to be played at Joe Louis Arena, will resemble either basketball or basketbrawl.

"It's gonna be a war, no question," said Boston center Robert Parish following the Pistons' 125-117 victory Thursday in Game 3. "I guarantee you something will break out if they (the officials) don't take control of the game."

Parish was one of the participants in the last game's main event, slugging Detroit center Bill Laimbeer with a forearm seconds after knocking him to the floor underneath the basket with an elbow. The second blow was landed after Laimbeer arose from the floor and jumped into Parish's face, a maneuver that the Boston pivotman found almost humorous.

"That was a farce," he said. "Laimbeer jumped up like he really wanted to fight. He's not a fighter. He's been knocked out too many times to be a fighter."

One man who knows a good fight when he sees one, Marvelous Marvin Hagler, jumped into the fray today. The world middleweight champion, who lives near Boston, sent a telegram to Celtics Coach K.C. Jones at the team's hotel here which read, "Good luck. You are the champs. Keep going. Keep punching."

But according to Detroit Coach Chuck Daly, all the Celtics' talk of battles is only so much steam. "Things will probably happen the opposite way," he said. "They want to play good basketball, what they're saying may not be the same as what they want to do."

Daly also thinks that of the NBA's four conference semifinal series, this one is possibly the most appealing. "That's because we're in it. We'd like to get another win tomorrow and make it even more dramatic," he said.

In the other series, Philadelphia and Los Angeles have 3-0 leads over Milwaukee and Portland, respectively, and Denver beat Utah two straight before the Jazz won today. The reason for such dominance is relatively simple, Daly said.

"The better teams will elevate their games with each succeeding level," Daly said. "Teams like Philly and L.A. can win their first-round series almost by osmosis, then, after that, they see the light at the end of the tunnel and their play really picks up."

As Daly would readily admit, his team isn't quite in the same rarefied air as the 76ers, Lakers or Celtics. His team's chances for tying the series depend upon a number of circumstances falling into place nicely. Or, as forward Dan Roundfield put it, "We have to play the same way as we did in the fourth quarter on Thursday: be intense, execute, work hard, then find somebody with a real hot hand."

In Game 3, that man was forward Terry Tyler, who scored 16 of his 18 points in the final 12 minutes. On Sunday, Daly said he expects a big game from a previous noncontributor, such as Roundfield or even substitute Kent Benson. "We haven't even seen him in this series," Daly said.

The Celtics got a bit of a scare today when Ray Williams crashed to the floor after colliding with Quinn Buckner during a scrimmage. The guard suffered a slight strain of his left knee; according to team doctors, he will be able to play.

Jones, however, wasn't so sure. "I really didn't like the way he looked when he walked off the court," the coach said.

When reminded that Williams had to be carried off the court, Jones smiled. "That's right, he didn't walk off, did he?" he said. "I knew there was something about it that I didn't like."