Barring an O. Henry style finish, the biggest question surrounding the National Basketball Asssociation's best-of-seven championship series is not whether the Boston Celtics will win their 16th National Basketball Association title, but when -- tonight? Sunday afternoon? Or perhaps next Wednesday evening? With Boston holding a 3-games-to-1 lead over the Houston Rockets, there is an air of inevitability about the final outcome. Tonight's fifth game is in the Houston Summit, where the Rockets have transformed themselves from Clark Kents to Supermen in splitting the last two down-to-the buzzer games, so they could make a brave Alamo-esque stand to delay their surrender.
But let's face it, the percentages are minuscule that the Celtics will lapse into a three-game losing streak, especially with if-needed sixth and seventh games back in a Boston Garden wallpapered with the NBA championship banners. The Big Green Machine has lost only one game on its home parquet all season, and the Rockets didn't find the environs conducive to their best play in the first two games, when they lost by 12 points in a contest not really that close and by 22 points.
In sleepwalking through these games, they hardly resembled the wrecking crew that had just hammered the defending NBA champion Los Angeles Lakers 4-1 in the Western Conference finals. Led by three-time league MVP Larry Bird, Boston was allowed to put on a clinic of winning basketball and practically toy with the opposition.
Home cooking allowed the Rockets to get mentally untracked, though, and in Game 3 they erased an eight-point deficit in the last 3 minutes to secure a 106-104 victory. Suddenly they had reblossomed into the team that beat L.A., with Akeem Olajuwon finally getting help from 7 ft. 4 in. Ralph Sampson, who awakened out of his mini slump with 24 points and 22 rebounds. Reserve guard Mitchell Wiggins also made an impact, starring with the winning tap-in basket. Any lingering disappointment over the Lakers' absence was squeezed out of the picture, and the Celtics knew they had a tiger by the tail. Game 4, which the Celtics pulled out 106-103, was another white-knuckle thriller, a game so packed with electricity that respected Boston Globe basketball writer Bob Ryan was moved to call it ``the best final series game in a decade.'' The pivotal shots in this game were a lethal 3-pointer launched by Bird that put the Celtics up by 104-101 with 2:25 remaining, and a tremendous rebound and over-the-shoulder jam by Bill Walton that iced the victory. Lieberman `liberates' basketball league
In women's basketball, American players have progressed by leaps and bounds, but not their postgraduate playing opportunities.
Nancy Lieberman's decision to play minor league men's basketball attests to that. She was once a top attraction in the short-lived Women's Basketball League, which folded in 1981, and has been the most vocal supporter of a pro league for women ever since.
For the moment, however, her dreams have gone on a back burner. Instead of waiting any longer for an American women's circuit to take root, she has signed with the Springfield Fame of the United States Basketball League. The team plays in Springfield, Mass., home of the Basketball Hall of Fame, a shrine that has yet to induct its first female player. Lieberman, who was the highest paid player in the WBL, eventually could be elected for her career at Old Dominion University, where she was twice the national Player of the Year.
Lierberman, now 27, may have to scrape a little rust off her game to play in the USBL, which knows a gate attraction when it sees one. The Rhode Island Gulls signed both 5 ft. 7 in. Spud Webb and 7 ft. 6 in. Manute Bol for the league's inaugural season last spring and summer.
In what many thought was a publicity gimmick, the NBA's Indiana Pacers brought former UCLA star Ann Meyers to training camp in 1979, but cut her from the team. Lieberman, therefore, will become the first woman to compete against men in a professional league. Lynette Woodward, the 1984 Olympic team captain, plays for the Harlem Globetrotters, but in more of a show-biz context. Windy City humor
Here's a riddle making the rounds among long-suffering Chicago sports fans: What do the the Bears, White Sox, and Cubs have in common? Answer: They all win once a week.