BOSTON, JUNE 6 -- For the Los Angeles Lakers, the urge to celebrate is strong.
The Western Conference champions took the opening two games of the NBA championship series by a total of 31 points, overwhelming the defending champion Boston Celtics with their speed and fast break ability.
Although Coach Pat Riley is trying to say all the right things about the difficulties of playing Game 3 in Boston Garden Sunday (WUSA-TV-9, 1 p.m.), even he is spellbound by the Lakers' performance.
"I'm having a hard time right now trying not to enjoy what I'm watching out there," he said. "On films at night, I sit there and go 'Wow!' but you don't want to do that during games."
Part of the reason for that is to keep from giving in totally to the growing feeling that Boston can't stay close to the Lakers.
But Riley can subdue his enthusiasm only so much. When the Lakers were leaving Los Angeles Friday to fly to Boston, Riley was accosted by a fan at the airport.
"Are you gonna win the next two in Boston?" the man eagerly asked.
"Yeah, we are," replied Riley without hesitation. Realizing that reporters were around, he quickly added, "Wait, you aren't one of those press types, are you?"
The easy-going banter suggests a man very much aware of how close his team is to its fourth NBA title of the decade, but also aware that league rules stipulate that at least two more games must be played before the Lakers can officially win it.
"We're just too close. There's more than enough time for getting happy," he said. "Right now, I'm trying not to stop and enjoy what has happened, trying to say that I'm just happy that we won two games at home. I do know, though, that if we can sustain what we've done so far, we'll be hard to beat."
That is irrefutable. In Game 2 Thursday, the Celtics, hobbled by injuries, played an excellent first quarter and still trailed, 38-34. For the game, they shot 55 percent from the floor and outrebounded the Lakers by 43-33. Their effort probably would have defeated every other team in the league, but at the final buzzer, they were on the short end of a 141-122 score.
"They shot well; they've been doin' that both games," said the Lakers' Magic Johnson. "They played well; we've just been doing better. We shot 61 percent; you can't get better than that. We've got our outside game going, our inside game going; you can't beat that."
Strategically, Boston once again will try to slow the Lakers' fast break by having guard Danny Ainge shadow Johnson full-court while the other Celtics are taking away the middle. But, as they did on Thursday, the Lakers will try to adapt. Their strategy is to have Johnson dribble to the sidelines, or release the ball early to Byron Scott or Michael Cooper, who can run the middle of the attack. That worked well enough in Game 2, when the duo combined for 45 points and 14 assists.
"All I know is that we're not playing very well, and that's very uncharacteristic of us," said Boston center Robert Parish. "I think we'll be heard from here, though. The Boston Celtics aren't dead; all they did was win two games on their home court."
The Celtics have lost only twice since Dec. 4, 1985, at the Garden. This season, they were 40-1 on the parquet floor during the regular season; conversely, they were 20-21 on the road, with a horrid 8-20 record against teams over .500.
Then, again, Boston's sole regular season home-court loss came at the hands -- and flying feet -- of the Lakers. And Milwaukee was able to beat the Celtics here in the Eastern Conference semifinals. And with a little more headiness, the Detroit Pistons could have pulled off the same feat in either Game 5 or 7 of the conference finals.
"We won't get caught up in any mystique," Riley said. "Boston Garden is just a place where the Celtics have a great edge because of the confidence factor. But we're a confident basketball team, too."