CBS stopped him before he got off the basketball court. Channel 7 stopped him before he reached his locker. The PR director stopped him before he could undress; too many people wanted interviews. They needed a bigger space. This was Adrian Dantley’s moment.
“They seem to be going to you more now. . . . ” one interviewer began.
“You have the ball in the critical situations now. . . .” stated another.
Now. Adrian Dantley was News For Now. Two games had been played in 28 hours at the Silverdome and the Pistons had gone from the ledge of this Eastern Conference final right back in through the window. In both games the same guy had the ball at the crunchiest of crunch times. Adrian Dantley. AD. This was the AD campaign.
“I’m just getting the ball more,” he said again and again, after putting in 32 points in the Pistons’ 145-119 romp over the Boston Celtics Sunday.
“When they put the ball in my hands I feel confident. I can do the job. I always have.”
This was an old message, a message he’d been dropping like a flier in Detroit’s mailbox throughout the season. Give me the ball. I can score. Only now it was center stage, network TV, the first time much of the nation was checking in on this lone-wolf former NBA scoring champion, who became a Pistons’ cast member this season.
And here, Sunday, was his address to the nation: Adrian Dantley can still be The Man. He scored the opening baskets of the first quarter and the fourth quarter, and in between he went rat-a-tat on every important stretch of Pistons offense. “If they don’t double-team me, I can take them in,” he said.
“Who do you mean?” someone asked. “Kevin McHale? Larry Bird? Robert Parish?”
“Any of ’em,” he said.
The AD campaign.
‘I’m always fired up’ How many baskets? How many spins to the hoop? There was a double-pump lay-up followed by a 16-footer followed by a breakaway lay-up in the crucial minutes of the third period. There were two lay-ups and a spinning hook in the neck-breaking start of the final period. Post up. Spin in. Off glass. Rat-a-tat.
This was the AD moment. The AD weekend. He scored 25 points in the first half of Game 3’s victory, and he led the Pistons in Game 4 to 145 points against the defending NBA champions. 145 points? Really? Yes. Now and then, the stoic Dantley even shook a fist at the crowd, which is akin to most of us taking off our clothes in public.
“Are you enjoying this that much?” he was asked. “Is that why you’re so fired up?”
“I’m always fired up,” he said, sounding very un-fired up. “I just don’t always show it.”
Doesn’t always show it? Are those words fitting? Here is a guy who will grin at a question but not answer — which is sort of half-answering — who will roll his eyes then say, “No comment.” In the first two games of this series he’d done that to questions about his playing time, or his involvement in the offense. He wanted the ball. He wanted the call. This is Isiah Thomas’ team, but . . . “I’m the type who’s gotta play a lot to wear my opponent down,” Dantley would allow. “I’m not used to going in and out. It affects my game.”
Whatever the change, he was in for most of the crucial minutes Sunday, spinning, driving, bumping, and playing a defense that went unnoticed by many. Except Larry Bird, the guy he was covering. “Dantley did as good a job on Bird as Michael Cooper or Paul Pressey does,” Celtics coach K.C. Jones said. “He was very tough.”
And at times, even obstinate. Once in the first half when the Celtics brought in Darren Daye, Pistons coach Chuck Daly screamed to Dantley: “YOU GOT DAYE! LET SALLEY TAKE BIRD!”
And Dantley turned, scowl intact, and mouthed back, “I got Bird.” And five seconds later, Daly signaled, never mind, you got Bird.
The AD campaign. Learn his secret? Fat chance So now this series shifts back to Boston Garden, where Dantley figures “they’ll probably come up with some sort of double-team on me.” It will be only one of the problems the Pistons will face in that unfriendly house.
But OK. For this weekend anyhow, it was AD’s moment, a nice slice of glory for a guy who spent years accumulating statistics in Utah, then reading them over while other teams went to the playoffs. “These kind of games,” Dantley admitted, almost smiling, “are fun.”
Besides, Dantley may have a few secrets in Boston. As a kid he attended Red Auerbach’s basketball camp in Massachusetts. There, Auerbach himself taught him fundamentals of the game, and whenever Dantley goes to the Garden he looks for Red and nods at him.
“What hints did Auerbach give you at that camp that stick with you today?” someone asked.
“He said I was fat,” Dantley answered.
So much for secrets.