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Enter 6'6" Kelly Tripucka, who had boasted to the press of his ability to resist Bird's fakes. But now Bird goaded him into going for a couple of pumps and twice in a row made spinning scoring moves to maintain the Celtics' cushion at 116-108. "We saw it happen with [ Houston's] Robert Reid in the '81 finals and then with [ L.A.'s] Michael Cooper last year," said Boston's M.L. Carr. "They say they're Birdbusters but they don't understand how much Larry likes a challenge."
At that point, 6'8" Dan Roundfield came on to play Bird, who, no doubt wary of Roundfield's shot-blocking ability, stayed outside. He trimmed a jumper over Roundfield's graying head. He whipped a behind-the-back pass to DJ on a break for a pull-up jumper and he fired a pass inside to DJ, who drew a foul and bagged two free throws. Boston hung on for a 130-123 win. "You've got to take it a quarter at a time," Bird said. "It doesn't matter if you play three great quarters if you play poorly and get beaten in the fourth. Just as long as I make 'em when we need 'em."
On Friday night Boston didn't need 'em, so Bird didn't make 'em. He shot 7 for 22 in Game 6, and was benched for more than eight minutes of the third quarter in favor of his understudy, Scott Wedman. "Larry couldn't have put it in the ocean tonight," said Boston coach K.C. Jones, who had excused Bird from a 9:30 shoot-around that morning after Bird phoned him, pleading a poor night's sleep.
Jones nonetheless sent Bird back in for the final quarter, in which he scored nine of his 17 points and grabbed five of his nine rebounds. But this game would be a sort of confirmation for the rest of the Celtics, proof to themselves that they could win with their star struggling. Detroit's Isiah Thomas, taking repeated advantage of one-on-one situations, scored 37 points and led a 9-2 Piston charge that trimmed Boston's lead to 105-101 with 5� minutes left to play. But on two subsequent Piston possessions, Boston struck back. First DJ picked the ball from Pocket Magic and hit two free throws. Then Celtic center Robert Parish stripped his counterpart, Bill Laimbeer, for another steal that led to two more foul shots. The Celtics had repulsed the last Piston thrust in a 123-113 victory.
The crucial defensive plays came, felicitously enough, from Johnson (22 points and six assists) and Parish (24 points and 13 rebounds), two stars in their own right who are often outshone in Bird's firmament. Boston finally played with the poise to match its lineage, setting a playoff record with only six turnovers. And the Celtics' much-maligned bench, outscored a whopping 230-137 by the Pistons during the series, showed some vital signs. "Why can't I do it like Scotty?" Bird muttered to teammate Ray Williams as he sat down to watch Wedman work on an 8-for-9 shooting night.
Bird came back with 23 against Philadelphia on Sunday while the rest of Boston's starting frontcourt, Kevin McHale and Parish, combined for another 54, knifing through the Philly defense as if it were parquet margarine. Perhaps the Sixers had been softened, rather than strengthened, by their idle week. They committed 21 turnovers, grabbed only two offensive rebounds in the first half and seemed sluggish. "[The layoff] hurt us on instinct plays," said 76er guard Clint Richardson. "They were quicker on loose balls and things like that."
So maybe, just maybe, the Pistons had done the Celtics a favor by extending them to six games. Boston and Philly don't prepare for one another by lying down to rest. "It's not like there's tarnish on a ring if you don't play Philly on the way to winning it," Carr explains, "but it does shine a little bit brighter."