BOSTON — Somewhere, a leprechaun just went squish. Somewhere a wicked green witch has just keeled over. The dark cloud that hung over Boston Garden whenever the Pistons showed up has been broken apart — finally, finally — and in the closing seconds Wednesday night, there was the most incredible sound, a sound not heard in nearly six years of Detroit visits.
“How sweet?” someone yelled to Isiah Thomas as he darted off the court, after the Pistons broke a Garden jinx of 21 consecutive losses in beating Boston, 104-96, in Game 1 of the NBA Eastern Conference final. “How sweet was this win?”
He looked at the questioner. He allowed a smile.
“It’s not over yet,” he whispered. “But sweet.”
Pistons win. Pistons win? In the Garden? Where your grave is half-dug upon arrival? In the Garden? Where players mysteriously bang heads and steal last-second passes? In the Garden? Where everything that can happen to you happens, over and over and over again? They won here?
They won here.
“BLEEPITY BLEEP!” screamed a joyous John Salley as the final seconds ticked away. “GO AHEAD, PRINT THAT! BLEEPITY BLEEP!”.
Well, we can’t really print that, John.
But we can understand the emotion. Here was the sock in the eye that the bully had coming to him. Here was the handsome egotistical jock finally getting a slap in the face. Here was . . . well, damn it, justice. The Pistons did everything they needed to do to win this opening game, played intense defense, played over injuries, played over noise. Thomas (35 points) was marvelous and Dennis Rodman rose to occasion and all this has happened before and they still came away empty.
Not this time.
Nobody stole the ball. Nobody made a last-second lay-up. The fans were filing out of Boston Garden with time still left on the clock. Ha. When was the last time that happened?
“Some bad things happened to us and I felt I had to take charge,” said Thomas, who was as calm as a toll-taker down the stretch, hitting basket after basket — two three-pointers — and making a beautiful feed to Rodman for a dunk. “It feels really good. Really good.”
How much did the Pistons want this? Hey. Nearly six years without a win here? What do you want? Body parts?
Familiarity soaked this game like a garden hose on a summer lawn. This was less a Game 1 than it was a Game 8. Seven bloodbaths had been staged last May,
and now, this May, we were picking up where we left off, weapons high, faces angry. So the screams cascaded down from the Garden crowd with every Celtic basket, and the boos cascaded down with everything Bill Laimbeer did. It was steamy and uproarious and everybody was soaked 40 seconds into the game. Intense? This was less a game than a war. Isiah down the lane. Laimbeer from the outside. Bang, bang. Kevin McHale in the middle, Dennis Johnson from the foul line. Bang, bang.
Bad things kept happening to the Pistons. Bad calls. Bad breaks. Laimbeer went out with a shoulder injury in the third quarter. Adrian Dantley and Salley were plagued by foul trouble. Detroit was really playing with a makeshift team in the end — James Edwards and Rodman in the final seconds? And yet there they were.
And as the game developed you could see the intensity of the Pistons return. This was what they had waited for. Oh, they pooh-poohed the rematch, said it was part of the game, but words are just bellhops that get you to the game. On the court, it is emotion, and this was angry, bloodthirsty, only-one-of-us- survives stuff.
And in the end, it was the Pistons. They walked off like businessmen, one job done, another to be done tonight in Game 2.
“I’ve been around this business too long to get excited, but it’s a big win for us at the right time,” said coach Chuck Daly.
Talk about understatement.
The immediate feeling is that we should all go home now, the battle has been won, the green monster is dead. Let’s watch the videotape.
That’s not the case, of course. No one knows how this series will go from here. But something has been done that already casts a whole new shadow on the thing. The Celtics bleed. They can go home losers from their own building.
Game 9 tonight.
The leprechaun will be watching from home.