INGLEWOOD, CALIF., JUNE 13 -- All the Boston Celtics have to do to even the NBA championship series against the Los Angeles Lakers at three games each is win their first game on the road since May 10.
If they accomplish that, and force a seventh and deciding game here Tuesday, the Celtics will stand on the verge of becoming, according to Coach K.C. Jones, "one of the greatest stories of all time."
Lakers Coach Pat Riley, wary from the start about Boston's numerous injuries, feels that's the way the final series has been portrayed. If the Celtics were to successfully defend their title, they would do it despite a string of debilitating hurts. If the Lakers -- with their glittering 67-15 regular season record -- triumph, so what?
"It's become a no-win situation," Riley said. "And even if we win, that will make it somewhat joyless."
But the fact that the Lakers are here and not on the East Coast for their 1987 finale only reaffirms their year-round excellence. Game 6, and possibly 7, will be here because the Lakers had the best record in basketball during the regular season.
"Somewhere down the line, Boston said that they weren't gonna lose any home games," said Riley of the Celtics' 86 victories in 89 games at Boston Garden. "This year, we made that same commitment; we said that we wanted the best record in the league, and if we were gonna play our best ball it would be at the Forum."
The first two games of the finals ended as 13- and 19-point victories for Los Angeles. And now that his team has returned to home court needing only a victory here Sunday to win its fourth title in the last seven seasons, Riley has no reason to be anything but confident.
"We've worked too hard this season; it would take a tough team to beat us now," he said. "They're tough, but if they can do that I guarantee it will be in two of the best games ever."
Boston worked its way back into the series with wins in Games 3 and 5, both in Boston Garden. In some ways, Jones' removal of his starters in the closing minutes of Thursday's 123-108 victory recalled the first two games, when Larry Bird, Dennis Johnson, et al, were also sitting on the bench. In those games, though, the Lakers were so far ahead that there was no need for them to get up.
"Hopefully you'll see some Celtics starters playing in the fourth quarter in the Forum, I know that's my goal," said forward Kevin McHale. "Last week we were all just sitting there taking our tape off."
Then, a Boston victory here was beyond the realm of possibility. After all, the Celtics' playoff road record of 2-7 was even a comedown from their shaky 20-21 regular season mark away from the Garden. At one stretch late in the season, the team lost nine consecutive road games, either getting blown out or losing fourth-quarter leads.
"It had a snowballing effect, and everyone seemed to lose confidence," said Jones. "Our home used to be on the road, too; now it's just a condo that we only visit."
After seven days cooped up in an overcrowded hotel in Boston, the Lakers say they've been rejuvenated by the sounds of soothing surf and appreciative fans.
"It feels great to be home," said center Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. "There are so many things about being home that have nothing to do with the game of basketball but with your personality."
It would seem that the two Lakers players most in need of some major good vibrations are forward James Worthy and guard Byron Scott, who have averaged 28 and 22 points at home in the finals but only 13 and six, respectively, on the road.
Scott, who still is villified by some here as the man who replaced Norm Nixon in the Los Angeles lineup, has been especially taken to task. However, Riley presented a strong defense today.
"His floor game has been good and his defense has been as good as any of our players," Riley said of Scott. "I wouldn't say he's in a slump because he's only taken about 10 shots a game, and that's not a lot. I say watch out, because he could go off at any time."
Time is something Boston doesn't have a lot of. Affected by injuries in the early stages of the postseason, the team seemed to return to the form it enjoyed in January and February on Thursday, even outscoring the much quicker Lakers in fast break points. They hit 37 of their last 63 shots, and their 15-point victory was the Celtics' biggest in this season's playoffs.
"It may have been the first time we've really had everybody going," said Jones. "That helped slow them down and let us run more. Why give them all the three-on-twos and four-on-nobodies? Those are easy points; we have to pull out all the stops now, anyway."
Given its 3-2 advantage, Los Angeles was playing it coy on the status of reserve guard/forward Michael Cooper. The NBA defensive player of the year hyperextended and sprained his right knee in Game 5 and said he wasn't sure if he would return Sunday.
"Right now I can't make that determination," he said. "It'll be up to the doctors and I'll go along with whatever they say."
NBA Finals Notes:
The Boston Celtics and Los Angeles Lakers have played lots of postseason games, but they've never played this late into the spring.
The Celtics' 123-108 victory in Game 5 of the NBA final series necessitated at least one more game against the Lakers. Neither team has ever played after June 12, that in 1984, when the Celtics beat the Lakers in a seventh playoff game of the final series.