At the conclusion of Saturday's practice, Coach Chuck Daly was saying one of his fondest hopes in his Detroit Pistons' semifinal series against the Boston Celtics was to get a good performance from guard Vinnie Johnson.
"Usually, he really kills Boston," Daly said. "We really need him."
Today, in the Pistons' 102-99 victory over Boston at Joe Louis Arena, Daly got him.
Trailing, 87-76, at the start of the fourth quarter, Detroit got a basket from reserve forward Terry Tyler with 6:57 to play. It also got two free throws from point guard Isiah Thomas with three seconds remaining to clinch the victory.
In between, Johnson scored the Pistons' remaining 22 points in the period, making 10 of 11 shots from the field and both free throws en route to a career-high 34 points. Johnson made six straight shots in the first 4 1/2 minutes of the final quarter and was 16 for 21 from the field for the day.
The victory evened the series at 2-2, with Game 5 scheduled Wednesday night at Boston.
"The only thing I was thinking about was, 'Hey, I'm going great, the crowd's into it. Let's win,' " Johnson said. "My game today was just to get us even with them."
"I'd much rather have been sitting behind a typewriter describing it than being out there at the time," said Boston guard Dennis Johnson, the victim of most of Vinnie Johnson's fourth-quarter output. "What was it like in the fourth quarter? That's one of the most original questions I've heard.
"Whenever they ran a play, it was for him. They'd set picks and someone would run at him and he'd make the shot. I'd get around the pick and run at him, he'd double-pump and make the shot. You could say we couldn't do anything with him."
Nor could the Celtics do much of anything for themselves. Besides their inability to stop Vinnie Johnson, they were having trouble on the offensive end of the floor as well. The defending NBA champions could muster only 12 points, the sixth-lowest total in playoff history, during the final 12 minutes of the game.
Scoreless in the first 4:30 of the fourth quarter, the visitors got their first field goal on forward Kevin McHale's layup with 5:39 remaining. He was fouled on the play and his free throw gave Boston a 94-93 lead.
The personal was the last mistake Johnson, a six-year veteran, would make. After the Pistons called time, Johnson scored on a 15-foot jumper, then, after a basket by Larry Bird, made a 16-footer with 4:50 to play.
Thirty-nine seconds later, Johnson made good on two free throws to tie the score at 96. The teams then went 2:21 without scoring, the drought broken by Johnson on one of those double-clutch shots.
With 58 seconds to play, he repeated the move, giving the Pistons a 100-96 lead and causing Boston to call time to regroup.
With 44 seconds left, Boston's Danny Ainge took a three-point field goal attempt that spun around the rim, bounced out and then fell through, drawing the Celtics to 100-99. Then, with 19 seconds left, Detroit center Bill Laimbeer missed a wide-open jumper.
Moving the ball swiftly upcourt, Boston put the ball into Bird's hands. But with nine seconds to play, he missed badly on a fallaway jumper.
"I'm just happy that we won," Vinnie Johnson said. " . . . I had 45 points once in college (Baylor) but that wasn't like this. The guys were coming to me and I was telling myself to be ready for it."
Daly certainly was, even if the Celtics' 11-point margin at the start of the fourth quarter made him seem decidedly less than a prophet.
"I had told the team at the half (Detroit led, 54-53) they'd have to play the last two quarters like they did the last two of the season," he said.
"The names of Vinnie Johnson and Terry Tyler (the Pistons' fourth-quarter hero in Game 3) are etched upon my mind but there's no reason for us to change anything," Boston Coach K.C. Jones said. "Why should we? We did well enough to get a 10-point lead in the fourth quarter. I guess I'm not a good teacher regarding putting the ball in the hoop."
Daly, however, was smart enough to know a good thing when he saw it. Asked how many shots Johnson had to make before the team would begin going to him exclusively, there was no hesitancy in his answer.