Celtics' comeback effort just isn't good enough


BOSTON -- The Boston fans chanted it like a mantra: "LAR-RY! LAR-RY!"

And until the fourth quarter of last night's Game 5, when it appeared that all had been lost for the Celtics, Larry Bird did little to answer their petitions.

Larry Legend had become Larry, legend? Bird would shoot after the chant, and the fans would respond, "OOHHHH!"

Then, as quickly as you can say mystique, Bird answered the call and an 18-point lead never disappeared so fast.

The Celtics, inspired by Bird (16 points) and Reggie Lewis (30), made a game of it before the Detroit Pistons won, 116-111, in Boston Garden.

When Bird hit a turnaround moon ball over Dennis Rodman with 3:38 left to make it 100-100, the sound was. . .

Well, you couldn't have heard a minor explosion. But you could see one. Boston had its fast break working like an old charm, plucking the boards after Pistons shots swirled out with regularity.

"When the crowd gets into it, you start to forget about everything else," Bird said. "The crowd did a great job of bringing us back into it."

Only the Pistons' Bill Laimbeer -- draining clutch shots and grabbing rebounds -- kept the lead from slipping away and the noise from becoming a constant.

Then Dee Brown joined Lewis and Bird in the onslaught, scoring 19.

"We played well when we were fighting for our lives," Brown said.

What a difference a quarter made. The Celtics, trailing 88-75 after three, and by as many as 18 points, were looking as worn as the Garden floor, with as many soft spots.

Robert Parish's left ankle gave out at halftime, and no one could stop Mark Aguirre, Joe Dumars, Vinnie Johnson or Laimbeer.

"We knew they'd get hot sooner or later, and this was the time," Celtics coach Chris Ford said.

Boston's offense went AWOL at the same time.

But the Celtics came back. And this time, their sixth man -- no, not Kevin McHale -- was a factor:

"HEY, ref! Your mother disowned you, yuh piece of gah-bage!"

"HEY, Aguirre, this is St. Joseph in the NCAA. You're gonna choke!"

But Aguirre hit the free throws with 16.7 seconds left, giving Detroit a 110-106 lead and assuring Boston of nothing more than a tease.

Check your mantra at the door, Celtics fans, and drive home carefully. The road will be rocky for Boston, which must take the final two series games to beat the Pistons to the Eastern Conference finals.

"We never got over the hump," McHale said. "If we could've got the lead, we would've won. We have to get on the boards in Detroit, go up there, and see which way the wind blows."

"They haven't won the fourth game yet," Ford continued, "and if we play with that fourth-quarter intensity, we'll be all right."

And that is what it has come down to for Boston, holding onto the last straw of the series.

"It just proved too hard to get it back against the world's champions," Brown said.

The Pistons now own the advantage and mystique. Check the championship trophies at the Palace door.

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