How Close Did the Rockets Come to Evening the Series 2-2 in 1986?

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June 4, 1986


This marvel of a game never wound down and never wore down, but so wonderfully bruised down to a final minute where it all would be won or lost. It was a minute in which no points were scored, but it was a minute so full of a complete team's complete team play. It was a minute of Celtics defense, the best kind.

 Larry Bird's three-pointer with 2:25 left and Bill  Walton's tap-in back  from the days of UCLA and Portland, a most timely tap, gave the Celtics a 104-101 lead, but it was Kevin McHale who saved it, the game and what would have been a war here tomorrow night. Once for effect and twice for good measure.

 "I was kind of waiting for a special time to do something like this," said McHale, "and I guess that was as special as you can get." The first of the steals, the first of the McHale . . . Stole . . . The . . . Ball!! . . . came with 46 seconds left. It was not the defense for which McHale is best known -- a blocked shot -- but this was a swifty McHale making a swift move to dart inside a Mitchell Wiggins pass and steal the lob pass to Akeem Olajuwon. It was the play of a 6-foot-3-inch guard instead of a 6-11 forward; it was a play that had to be made.

"It was reaction," explained McHale. "They had set a pick-and-roll with (Allen) Leavell and Ralph (Sampson), and I jumped over on Leavell. Then one of our guards came over and I ran back toward Ralph and Ralph threw it over to Wiggins and Wiggins tried to slide through to Akeem."

Who can explain the whys and wherefores of these plays, these plays by which games are won and games are lost? McHale said it was instinct and reaction, but the tape will show that McHale anticipated exactly what Wiggins would do and began moving for the pass even before Wiggins passed the ball. Call it instinct but call it the play of a winner.

As Wiggins lobbed the ball, McHale already was moving around Olajuwon, "and I just stuck my arm up and back and deflected the ball down," said McHale. "Luckily, I was able to deflect the ball to DJ (Dennis Johnson)." Luck? Some luck, yes, but more smarts.

When Bird missed a three-pointer with 27 seconds left, a three-pointer that would have ended all suspense, again the Celtics were down to their defense. This time the Rockets inbounded the pass, clearly looking for a three-pointer of their own. But this was a team in confusion and chaos, Ralph Sampson -- of all players -- ending up with the ball 28 feet from the basket and 10 seconds left on the clock. Sampson looked front, back, left and right, a man out of sync, out of place and soon to be out of time. Again, McHale swooped.

"Ralph looked like he wanted to shoot the ball," said McHale, "but we had a foul to waste, and if he even started to go up with a three-pointer, I was going to hack him bad. But I was on his shooting hand, and then Ralph looked like he wanted to pass the ball. If he cocked it, like he was going to shoot, I was just going to grab him."

Sampson now panicked, catching a glimpse of Leavell to his left, but farther out than Sampson, close to midcourt, and Sampson tried to pass the ball. "That's when I closed in on him," said McHale, "and he passed it and it hit me on the arm. Then Danny Ainge and I broke ahead of the pack, and it was fun to see us run off those last 10 or 12 seconds off the clock."

McHale has made these plays before, on both defense and offense, but the difference between last year's Celtics team and this one was the basket with 1:39 left, the Celtics' final basket, the one that gave Boston its final margin of 106-103. This was a stunning basket made by Bill  Walton, and there were few happier men in America late last evening.

"After nine years, it's very nice to be back," said Walton. "Last year at this time, I was watching the finals on television back home in San Diego, and now this."The play developed when Dennis Johnson, the most intense and competitive of the Celtics this night, drove into the lane and put up a running righthander  from the right of the basket. The ball bounced off the rim.

"Dennis just drove down there, he put his head down and got to the hoop and there were a ton of guys there," said Walton. "Dennis went up, and I saw nothing but ball, nothing but ball, and I just got it and put it back in." Not that simply, because Walton crashed to the other side of the basket and slipped in a reverse layup from the left.

This was the rarest of moves, Walton in the game during the final three minutes of crunch time and Robert Parish on the bench.This was the rarest of moves, Walton in the game during the final three minutes of crunch and Robert Parish on the bench.  Was this the moment Walton had been waiting for during his nine years of exile and injury and indifference in Portland and San Diego? Walton was asked. Was this all of it?

"Yes, yes, yes," said Walton of the basket. "Although the next one, the next one is the big one. We have one more to get; that is the one we've got to get."  Only a matter of time. The Celtics last night stole the heart from the Rockets.   


The Greatest Five Minutes of Basketball Ever Played


 Tucked away somewhere in his private stash, Danny Ainge owns a VCR tape he entitles "The Way Basketball is Supposed to be Played." It captures quarter number 3 of Game 5 in the Celtics-Hawks 1986 playoff series.

John Wooden: When Healthy, Bill Walton was the Best

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Red Auerbach and the 1956 Draft

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Forty-one years ago, a man who served his team as coach/general manager/marketing director/traveling secretary/business manager pulled off the finest draft in the history of professional sports. And the local media gave it far less play than your average New England Revolution-Dallas Burn game of 1997.


Before Trader Dan, there was Trader Rick

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March 4, 1999 
Trade winds beckon defense-minded Celtics

   Rick Pitino did a good thing for his tallest employees yesterday. He gave them the day off. HisCeltics needed to rest after playing five games in seven days. Not only does that mean they are tired, it means they should not be surprised when they see the remaining March schedule: 16 games in the next 29 days - or a game every other night. Ten of those games are on the road.

Maybe Pitino is tired from his coaching and presidential duties, too. But he only has time for those trendy, 15-minute power naps. While the Celtics were sleeping, shopping, catching up on their bills, and playing video games, Pitino and general manager Chris Wallace were at work. 

They have a lot to think about.


Cavs Floor Celts

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March 3, 1999

   CLEVELAND - They did not lose because of a bad call, bad free throw shooting, or Paul Pierce's very bad night (0 for 11, 2 points). The Celtics are 6-7 this morning because they went to Gund Arena and decided not to guard any Cavaliers.


Cavs' Potapenko Eludes T

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March 3, 1999,

Riled up

Eric Riley was booed in his hometown last night. He got tangled up with Cavaliers center Vitaly Potapenko, the benches cleared, and the players had to be separated.

"He just went crazy," Riley said.

Potapenko, who wears a mask to protect his broken nose, said, "All I wanted to do was protect myself because my nose still has 10 days to two weeks to heal."

Strangely, Shawn Kemp was given a technical along with Riley, but not Potapenko.

"I don't know why," Riley said. "Kemp was just trying to break it up."


Larry Bird and Joey Q

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The other week Danny Ainge recalled how surprised he was when he first saw Kevin Garnett rebounding balls for Rajon Rondo during shooting practice. "Larry Bird would never have done that," Ainge said, suggesting that such behavior would have beneath the Legend.

Ainge was right. Bird typically didn't rebound basketballs for anyone during practice. But he certainly didn't take on airs either.


Larry Bird and the Goggles

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On Sunday, March 6, 1988, Bird was off to a fine start against the Cleveland Cavaliers. He had 13 first-quarter points and all was well with the world -- until he took off on a baseline excursion with 20 seconds or so left and was met by Dell Curry. He was struck -- accidentally -- in the face by a Curry elbow and sustained a hairline fracture of the orbital bone on the left side of his face.

Typically, Bird refused to quit playing. He went to the locker room for treatment, and returned to score 18 of his 31 points while suffering from double vision. How was this possible? "Basically," explained Dr. Arnold Scheller, "Larry saw a superimposed rim. He has a tremendous ability to adjust to adversity."

There was great speculation about whether or not Bird would play in the next game against San Antonio. Bird materialized at the midcourt circle, goggles in hand, to play the game. He shot 15 for 27 from the floor and scored 36 points. The Celtics needed them all to pull out a 119-118 victory over the Spurs. Shrugged Bird, who despised the goggles, "I really wasn't happy about wearin' 'em, but I don't want to be layin' around in the hospital."

He wore the dreaded goggles three more times, hating every nanosecond of the experience. He scored 30, 28 and 34 points with his neo-Kareem look. "I don't know how those guys who wear 'em all the time do it," he said. "Every shot I took, I didn't know if it would be an air ball or a swish."

There were a few more of the latter than the former. Wearing the goggles he despised, Larry Bird shot 55 percent from the floor in four games. In his first goggle-less game, he shot 8 for 19.


Bird and McHale

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The relationship between Larry Bird and Kevin McHale was always interesting, to say the least. And as the Celtics in recent years have struggled at times with differing personalities, it is instructional to note how two talented players with their share of differences were able to rise together above any issues. Professionalism it is called.

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