by | Nov 21, 2008 | Detroit Free Press | 0 comments

Adrian Dantley came spinning out of yet another basket, a beautiful fast break, and he got the foul, the crowd went wild, and he whirled toward the Detroit bench on bended knee, made a fist, and ooooh, ooooh, was he actually going to . . . smile? Well. Almost. What do you want? Miracles? A smile from Master Scowl was the only thing missing in this grab bag of gestures that was Detroit’s 122-104 playoff win at the Silverdome.

All hands on deck. Or in the air. Here was Isiah Thomas beaming and slapping palms; here was Dennis Rodman loping downcourt waving a fist; here was John Salley slamming down a high rebound, a-whooomph!; here was Larry Bird throwing a ball into Bill Laimbeer’s face; here was . . .

A ball in the face? Well. OK. Can we deal with “the big fight” right now? This is all you need to know:

1. The Action Highlights: Bill and Larry go up in the fourth quarter. Bill and Larry fall down. Bill grabs Larry. Larry swings at Bill. Larry throws ball at Bill’s head. Both get ejected.

2. The Verbal Highlights:

LAIMBEER: “I was just trying to break my fall when I grabbed him.”

BIRD: “Yeah, and I was just trying to throw the ball back to the referee and his face got in the way.”

Ba-dum bump.

Enough on the fight. It was stupid, unnecessary and not particularly graceful, what with all those bodies squirming around in a pile. It was, however, fitting, because in the stands behind a basket sat Red Wings coach Jacques Demers.

Naturally. He shows up at basketball and a hockey game breaks out.

But momentarily lost in the post-brawl mumbling was the rediscovery of the stuff that brought Detroit to these playoffs to begin with. For two games in Boston and five lay-off days before that, the hot-shooting, strong-defending Pistons game was on vacation. Was it ever coming back?

Not to worry. On Saturday someone tripped over those two ends of cable marked “Pistons Left” and “Pistons Right” and finally plugged them together. Dantley got hot and Laimbeer got hot (before he got, you know, hot) and Rick Mahorn got rebounds and Vinnie Johnson got that look and . . .

“You know what happened?” said Thomas, after the game, which Detroit led at one stage by 23 points. “With the layoff we lost our edge, we lost our sharpness, we lost our intensity. It took us those two games in Boston to find that stuff and lock in on our opponent. We’re locked in now. You won’t see any more games like those first two.”

All hands on deck.

Here was the game that proved the rims in Boston Garden were smaller than regulation, that they had a wind machine blowing in there, that something was in the water, anything. Face it. Games 1 and 2 were unhealthy basketball from Detroit, which was healthy, and healthy Celtics basketball from Boston, which was not.

They were puzzling games, but they counted. And then the Silverdome swung open its doors and here the Celtics seemed smaller, less legendary, there was no green aura following them around.

“I had no doubt when we left Boston that we would come back here and win,” Thomas said. Maybe they just needed to get out of New England. Whatever. This game was gone by the first-half buzzer. Did Detroit really lead by 20? Did they really score 73 points? In one half? Against the Celtics?

Yes. Here was Dantley, who scored 25 in the first half, taking Bird to the hole, over and over. Here was Isiah, who finished with 23, taking it down the lane past Jerry Sichting. Over and over. Here was Laimbeer grabbing offensive rebounds and dropping them in. And Vinnie Johnson leaning and popping. And Chuck Daly pulling his jacket and walking back to the bench, his semaphore for satisfaction. Over and over.

“What did they do differently?” someone asked Kevin McHale afterward.

“They just flat-out kicked our rear ends today,” he said.

OK. You want more on the fight. Laimbeer, at least, had the good sense to give his description and leave it at that. Bird, after repeatedly saying “Just look at the tape” (to which reporters said, “Hey. Send us a tape. We’ll look at it.”), then launched into a mini-assault on Laimbeer’s manhood.

“He thinks he’s so tough, then come at me then. . . . Be a man, step up and do it. . . . He wants the officials to protect him, he wants his teammates to come out. Let everybody get out of the way and come on.”

Yes. Well. Larry. Come here. Closer.

Shut up.

And no more on the fight. The Pistons will need all their concentration to win again this afternoon and get back in this series. Robert Parish’s early exit Saturday ensured the Celtics were finished early, too. But he’ll be back. And Boston will not repeat Game 3’s performance.

“Shoot,” said Dantley, as he dressed afterward, “today’s game doesn’t mean anything if we don’t win it tomorrow and go back to Boston even up.

“I was sitting there on the bench (during the fight) and I said, ‘Don’t pump him (Bird) up.’ I mean, I’m the one that’s got to guard him tomorrow.”

Tomorrow is today. If Jacques Demers comes this afternoon, put on your mask. But all right. For one game, at the very least, the Pistons gave the country a good glimpse of the basketball that now characterizes their finest moments. Fists, slaps, slams, and flying basketballs aside.

“Hey, Adrian. Was that a smile we almost saw after that lay- up?” someone asked. “Was it? Come on. Admit it.”

His eyes danced, but just for a moment. Then he put on his best baritone voice and looked down.

“Aw, I was just tryin’ to get the crowd pumped up. . . . ” he said.

Ba-dum bump. Off and runnin’

How the Pistons overpowered the Celtics on their way to a 20- point lead at halftime Saturday: PISTONS STAT CELTICS 73 Points 53 60.8 FG percent 54.1 78.6 FT percent 81.3 19 Rebounds 21

5 Turnovers 13

5 Steals 1 CUTLINE Isiah Thomas plays keepaway with Boston’s Jerry Sichting.


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Mitch Albom writes about running an orphanage in impoverished Port-au-Prince, Haiti, his kids, their hardships, laughs and challenges, and the life lessons he’s learned there every day.

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