They touched down in four time zones and drew seven sellouts in 10 days. Larry Bird earned one ejection, three triple-doubles and served more southpaw tosses than Sandy Koufax. Kevin McHale played as many minutes as Johnny Most, and Scott Wedman battled a bad back and suspicious minds.
When the odyssey was over, they'd left folks down and out in Beverly Hills, speechless in the Streets of San Francisco and delirious in Denver.
Boston's 102-100 loss to the the Nuggets in Coors country last night sent the Celts staggering home with a 4-3 record for the trip.
After beating the Warriors without McHale and Wedman, the Celts tried to beat the Nuggets at 5,280 feet without McHale and Bill Walton (turned left ankle). They couldn't do it. Fat Lever beat Boston with a 20-foot jumper with 26 seconds left.
Denver led for most of the second half, but the Celts cut it to two points three times in the closing minutes. Lever made a couple of big jumpers, and two free throws by Alex English gave Denver a 97-93 lead with 2:44 left.
A Robert Parish free throw cut it to one, then Bird scored on a pass from Danny Ainge. The Celts got the ball back when English was tagged with a rebounding foul, but Parish grabbed Wayne Cooper at the other end and Denver took over.
English's shot was blocked by Greg Kite, but Parish heaved an air-ball turnaround and then Ainge fouled Cooper. Cooper missed the first, made the second and the Celts called time with 46 seconds left.
Bird took it to the hole and scored as he was fouled by Calvin Natt. Thirty-seven seconds remained. Bird went to the line and clanged the free throw off the front of the rim. Denver called time.
With 26 seconds left, Leverl rattled in a 20-footer and the Celts called time again.
Bird took it to the left baseline and heaved an air ball as he was smothered by Lever. Parish knocked the ball out of bounds in the rebound scramble. Sixteen seconds remained and the Celts were forced to foul.
Wedman (strained lower back) was a surprise starter. He arrived in Denver early yesterday afternoon, accompanied by his wife, Kim, and his personal physical therapist, Steve Krischel.
Celtics coach K.C. Jones planned to start David Thirdkill, but Wedman said he was ready after warmups and started the game guarding Natt.
Walton was dressed and available for emergency duty, but the Celts didn't want to use him unless it was absolutely necessary. Walton rolled his left ankle twice in Oakland Wednesday night.
Natt and English ran Boston ragged in the first four minutes, and the Nuggets bolted to a 13-6 lead. The Celts answered with their own running game and Bird drove Boston to a five-point lead. Bird capped a 10-2 run by detonating a Nugget fast break, then passing the ball downcourt from a prone position. Wedman scored to give the Celts a 24-19 lead.
The Celts shot 64 percent (14 for 22) and outrebounded Denver, 11-6, in the first quarter and led, 30-26, at the end of one.
Wedman drained a couple of jumpers at the start of the second and Boston stayed ahead by four. The immortal Bill Hanzlick carried the Nuggets until English went back to work. A six-point flurry by Cooper thrust Denver into a tie with 2:14 left in the half.
Fifty seconds later, Celtic assistant coach Jimmy Rodgers picked up two quick technicals from novice ref Danny Crawford. Rodgers had been imploring Crawford to slap the Nuggets for illegal zone violations.
The half ended in spectacular fashion when Danny Ainge swished a 65-foot buzzer-beater. It was ironic that Ainge, who lost his shooting touch during the All-Star break, would be the man to can a million-dollar shot. Ainge's bomb gave Boston a 54-52 lead at intermission.
"Just a routine shot," said Ainge.
Natt and Lever roared out of the locker room after the half and ran the Nuggets to their 64-62 lead, forcing Jones to call time.
Both teams went cold after the pause. With the Celts trailing, 70-69, Jones tried Sam Vincent in the backcourt. Vincent teamed with Jerry Sichting, Kite, Wedman and Thirdkill.
English exploited Boston's ragged unit late in the period and shot the home team to a five-point lead. Denver settled for 81-77 at the end of three. English already had 29 points.
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- #05 (Walton)
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- #12 (Sichting)
- 1971-72 Lakers
- 2007-08 Scores
- Banner 17
- Grassy Knoll Network
- Green Mile
- Larry & Magic
- NBA Scoreboard
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- Walton Gang (1977)