Surprising Celtics giving Lakers a handful

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After Los Angeles had blown out Boston 137-104 in Game 3, the media in both cities began writing as though the 1984 NBA playoff finals were already over. The Celtics had no one who could nullify Kareem Abdul-Jabbar or stop Magic Johnson from controlling the tempo, they said. Meanwhile, all the Lakers had to do on defense was jam the middle and dare the Celtics to shoot from outside and it would probably all be over in five games.

Well, a funny thing happened at the Forum Wednesday night (Boston 129, L.A. 125 in overtime) and now the best-of-seven series is tied 2-2.

''Basically we are not a team that overpowers people,'' said Boston general manager Red Auerbach, although the Celtics have shown a lot of muscle in this series so far. ''To free things up for us to score more inside, we have to get the right amount of outside shooting from our guards. In the first three games we didn't get that much. But when Dennis Johnson scored consistently for us in Game 4, it gave us the edge we needed.''

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Johnson, who played an uneventful 14 minutes in Game 3, logged 50 minutes Wednesday during which he scored 22 points and handed out 14 assists. This opened things up for center Robert Parish, who had 25 points. Meanwhile Larry Bird was merely himself, with 29 points, 21 rebounds, and a floor game so perfect it should have been preserved on microfilm.

The Lakers may still win this series, but what once looked like a picnic to L.A. has now become a war.

Laker Coach Pat Riley didn't seem surprised by Boston's tremendous improvement from Game 3 to Game 4.

''The Celtics played with more intensity,'' he said. ''They got a great second and third effort. You can win sometimes just by keeping the ball alive and being aggressive on defense.

''Boston's greatest strength is its offensive rebounding. If we continue to give the Celtics two and three extra shots, we'll probably lose. But if we can get our fast break going again, they don't have time to get back and set up for us.''

Asked about some of the Laker mistakes (James Worthy having a key pass intercepted for the second time in the series, and Magic throwing the ball away as well as missing two free throws when L.A. still had a chance to win), Riley replied:

''Basketball is a game of mistakes. We had our opportunities and didn't take them. We missed Kareem (32 points) badly after he fouled out. But the last time the Celtics stole a victory from us (he meant Game 2) we came back two days later and beat them by 33 points. I think because of our fast break, something like that might happen again.''

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