INGLEWOOD, Calif. -- Kevin McHale supplied the clothesline and Larry Bird hung the Los Angeles Lakers out to dry.
McHale's demolition of the Lakers' Kurt Rambis with a brutal forearm triggered a brawl between the Boston Celtics and the Lakers in the third quarter of Wednesday night's game and seemed to disrupt the Lakers, who had led by as many as 14 points.
And with 16 seconds left in overtime, Bird drilled a 15-footer over Magic Johnson that carried the Celtics to a 129-125 victory, knotting the NBA championship series at two games each.
Game 5 of the best-of-seven series is scheduled for Friday night in Boston.
McHale's action against Rambis symbolized the Celtics' change of strategy following their 137-104 thrashing by the Lakers in Game 3. After that game, Bird said the Celtics played like 'sissies.'
There were no sissies in Game 4.
McHale's slam dunk of the driving Rambis brought him only a personal foul. In the NFL it would have been a 15-yard penalty. In the NHL, two minutes in the box. On the street it might have brought 2-to-4 years in state prison.
Rambis got up and charged both McHale and Gerald Henderson, who hit his legs at the same time McHale delivered the forearm. The Lakers' Michael Cooper knocked Henderson down and planted a foot on his stomach. McHale faded towards the empty Boston bench, not wanting any part of the angry Lakers.
Slightly more than a minute later, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar was fouled by Bird and charged the Boston All-Star with fists clenched. The two were separated following a heated exchange of words.
"We scrambled like hell in the second half to get our game together," said Boston coach K.C. Jones. "At halftime we decided to make a more conscious effort to be aggressive. We had to be more aggressive. Flare-ups were bound to happen.
"This kind of game just about gives a person a heart attack."
Bird's winning shot was typical of the wild play.
"Michael Cooper fell down in the lane," Bird explained. "Then it got a little helter-skelter. But as soon as I got Magic (Johnson) in the post, I knew I could shoot over him."
The Lakers had missed an opportunity to tie it in overtime when James Worthy managed only 1-of-2 free throws with 10 seconds left. A second later, Dennis Johnson hit two foul shots to put Boston ahead 127-124. After a Los Angeles timeout, M.L. Carr stole Worthy's inbounds pass and stormed for a dunk to seal the victory.
Los Angeles coach Pat Riley chose not to blame, but to give credit.
"The outcome was determined by the Celtics' effort," Riley said. "We can't say we should have done this or that. This is a game of mistakes. This is a world of mistakes. If you read the front page (of a newspaper), you'll see all the mistakes you want."
Bird led the Celtics with 29 points while Robert Parish scored 25 and Dennis Johnson 22. Abdul-Jabbar, who fouled out late in the fourth quarter, led Los Angeles with 32 points while Worthy had 30 and Magic Johnson 20.
The Celtics trailed 113-108 with 56 seconds left in regulation but scored the fourth period's final 5 points on a basket and free throw by Robert Parish and Bird's two free throws with 16 seconds left that tied it 113-113.
With four seconds remaining, Parish intercepted a Magic Johnson pass and called timeout. A long fadeaway by Bird was long and Kevin McHale rebounded and missed at the buzzer, sending the game into the extra period.
"We had it won," Cooper said. "With 10 seconds left we had the game in our hand and then we let it get away. We had a chance to back the Celtics deep into a corner.
"Now, they're out."