Give the Chicago Bulls credit. Down by 19 midway through the third quarter on the road to the NBA's hottest team, they could have said au revoir and turned their thoughts toward Friday night's game with Atlanta. Because they didn't, the usual Garden capacity crowd got to enjoy the fourth quarter.
The fans got to see Larry Bird come bounding off the bench with the team in jeopardy to make some sensational plays. They got to see Robert Parish rip down some key rebounds. They got to see some exemplary Boston team defense. In short, they got to see the Celtics perform in championship style when it mattered en route to a 108-97 triumph.
The victory, Boston's seventh in succession since returning from the West Coast, came hard because the Celtics found it understandably difficult to maintain complete concentration after constructing a 19-point lead against a depleted team they had whipped just one night earlier. There is little doubt that, after taking a 74-55 lead with 7:09 remaining in period three, the Celtics immediately checked back into their mental hotel room for a pleasant little siesta.
When they awoke, the lead was down to five, at 86-81, and K.C. Jones was finding it necessary to send back Bird (26 points) and Danny Ainge (21) to finish the job. Larry made an immediate contribution by slipping a slick wraparound pass into the hands of Kevin McHale for a transition lay-up. Bird next dropped in a 22-footer, and when hard-working Sidney Green responded with a tough fallaway, Larry countered with a banner-scraping transition three- pointer described by trainer Ray Melchiorre as being launched "a full block behind the three-point line." Bird would later conclude his burst with a nice runner in the lane that gave Boston a 97-87 lead with 5:38 to go. The home team was never again in jeopardy.
The Celtics had taken command with a sneaky first half run. It was so sneaky that at no point during the streak was there legitimate crowd reaction, but the fact is that a soft-spoken Celtics' spurt of 10 unanswered points in the middle of the second quarter proved to be the first half difference as Boston took a 60-49 lead into the locker room.
The Celtics were having difficulty combatting their own defensive lethargy and the noted Chicago spunkiness, and with 7:43 remaining in the half Jones called a rally-the-troops 20-second timeout when a deep jumper by Kyle Macy gave the stubborn Bulls a 43-41 lead. Whatever K.C. said in that little briefing was effective, because when the Celtics came back on the floor they were notably more intense defensively (the offense had not been the problem, anyway).
Jerry Sichting, who came off the bench to connect on three of four first- half jumpers, started Boston off with a foul line jumper emanating from superb ball movement. Over the next three-plus minutes, the Celtics methodically began to asert themselves, until a pair of free throws by Bird capped the run and made it 51-43, Boston.
The rest of the quarter belonged to Bird. After a slow offensive start, Larry got rolling with a step-back three-pointer from the right corner that gave Boston its largest lead to that point, a nine-point bulge at 54-45. Before the period was over, he would connect on two more long jumpers. After scoring two points in the first 17 minutes, he scored 11 in the final 3:47. In addition, he set up Boston's halftime spread when he sneaked up on Charles Oakley from behind for a steal that sprung Dennis Johnson for a sneakaway lay- up with 26 seconds to go.
The Celtics played very little of whay you might call your basic hunkering down defense in the opening quarter, allowing the Bulls an unlimited number of medium-range jumpers. Hence a 32-31 one-quarter Boston lead.
Once again, Boston was able to satisfy its basic offensive wishes. The Bulls seemed intent on not letting Bird beat them from any angle, checking him with two men every time he received the ball. The end results were nicely- swung passes to the far side and some open jumpers by Ainge. When that wasn't taking place, Parish and McHale were posting up any time they pleased.
The best all this offensive firepower could get the Celtics in the quarter were three six-point leads, however, and the Bulls weren't fazed by any of those. Boston exerted minimal external pressure, hardly contesting the ballhandlers and worrying not at all about passing lanes. Their big folks are all perimeter shooters, and so Oakley burned Bird, Banks burned Parish and Green burned McHale with 15-footers throughout a quarter in which Chicago shot 67 percent (14-21).