BOSTON, JUNE 11 -- It was a celebration, the sort associated with championships -- or perhaps farewells. In fact, all the Boston Celtics' 123-108 victory over the Los Angeles Lakers in Game 5 of the NBA finals here tonight did was stave off one match point.

The Celtics still trail three games to two in the best-of-seven series and, in championship play, no team has ever come back from the 3-1 deficit they were in at the start of play tonight.

More germane is that the next game in this series will be played Sunday at the Forum in suburban Los Angeles, where the Lakers opened these proceedings by blowing out the Celtics by 13 and 19 points.

Of course, none of that mattered to the 14,890 here tonight -- it was the 322nd consecutive sellout in the Boston Garden. In what was the Celtics' last home game this season, there was only deafening noise and standing ovations.

And deservedly so. Instead of submitting meekly to the Lakers, the Celtics labored mightily. Hard labor is, of course, the province of Larry Bird; the Celtics' all-star finished with 23 points, 12 rebounds and seven assists.

Each of his fellow starters had at least 20 points, led by Dennis Johnson's 25. Back court partner Danny Ainge had 21, having made five three-point field goals in the game, including four in the third period.

Magic Johnson's 29 points, 12 assists and eight rebounds led the Lakers, who may enter Game 6 having to deal with two injuries. Supersub Michael Cooper hurt his right knee in the opening half, although he played later. Starting guard Byron Scott might have broken his nose in the first half.

The Celtics, though, emerged from the game with everything -- including their pride -- intact.

"We have to go out and give our best effort," said forward Kevin McHale, who had 22 points and 14 rebounds. "I take pride in my work, pride in my ethic and pride in being a Boston Celtic. We have to go out and give the best effort possible."

The Celtics' 123 points were the most they'd scored in a month. They made 51 percent of their shots for the game after making nine of 23 in the first quarter.

How impressed were the Lakers? Not very.

"We wanted to win but we've got two more at home," said Magic Johnson. "It's not like it was do or die or anything."

Lakers Coach Pat Riley agreed. "The only thing we've wanted out of all this was to win two at home and get one here," he said. "Whether it was fortunate or not, we got that one."

That was Tuesday night's 107-106 victory in Game 4, a game in which the Celtics lost a 16-point lead in the third quarter and an eight-point lead in the last 3:29. After tonight's game, Celtics President Red Auerbach decried that loss, huffing: "We could be up 3-2," between puffs on his ever-present cigar.

But having won Game 4, the Lakers figured they could survive a loss tonight. The Celtics knew they couldn't, and played that way. In the second quarter, Bird dived headfirst over the end line to retrieve a missed second shot. He thudded on the floor loudly but pushed the ball to center Robert Parish, who made a short jumper.

That effort climaxed a 17-8 spurt that transformed a 31-30 deficit into a 47-39 lead. The Lakers got within 51-46 with 3:40 left in the first half, but the Celtics went on another tear, this one 14-2, and led at the half, 63-48.

"It got away from us quickly and from that point it was just catch up," said Riley. "They kept getting streak after streak."

Ainge was important to those streaks. His first three-pointer was a toss from just inside the midcourt line to end the opening half, the next three kept the Lakers at bay during a third period sequence that perhaps featured the best sustained play in the series.

"I missed my first one {in the third quarter}," he said. "The coaches were going, 'Hey we don't need those,' but I said that if I was open I was going to shoot them."

The score was 84-75, Celtics, when McHale scored on a layup, then stole the ball from James Worthy. The Lakers called time seconds later and the Garden vibrated with the crowd's cheering. It didn't appear that it could get any louder, but it did, twice.

The first time came when Ainge made his fifth three-pointer to make the score 94-77; the second when reserve center Bill Walton, oft-injured and seldom used, came into the game and scored his second basket of the championship series to give Boston a 96-77 advantage entering the fourth quarter.

"The game was very important to our guys," said Boston Coach K.C. Jones. "Larry said if they were going to celebrate, let's not let them celebrate on the parquet floor. D.J. {Dennis Johnson} said that we were down but not out. So basically, they said the pregame speech themselves."

The next speech given to the Celtics will most likely center around putting the opening two games of the series out of their minds. That will be considerably easier to do, given their victories in two of the last three games.

"We seem to be playing healthier now," said Ainge. "I don't know if it's the home court or what, but I think our effort will be better out there."

Fans Warned

Associated Press

INGLEWOOD, Calif., June 11 -- Basketball fans needn't try to meet the Los Angeles Lakers at Los Angeles International Airport when the team gets back from Boston Friday.

"Special arrangements have been made to get the Lakers safely out of the Los Angeles airport," said Janice Wise of the Lakers. "Therefore, the team will not be arriving at the terminal."

The sixth game of the series will be played at the Forum Sunday afternoon. Should the Lakers win that, a parade would be held Tuesday.

Should a seventh game be necessary, it would be played at the Forum Tuesday night. If the Lakers win a seventh game, the parade would be held Thursday.

Whenever the parade is held -- if indeed the Lakers win -- a victory rally will follow at 3 p.m. that same day in the parking lot of the Forum, Wise said.