Jack Madden and Ed Middleton are one-up on Elia Kazan. He only directed "On The Waterfront." Last night these two got to referee it.
And in the decisive fourth period, Madden and Middleton decided that the Celtics were essentially the muggees and the Hawks the muggers. Call after crucial call after crucial non-call went Boston's way as the Celtics came back from a 95-89 three-period deficit on the road against a snarling young foe to put the kids away by a 121-114 score and thus (a) snap Atlanta's seven-game winning streak (b) guarantee a winning road trip and (c) instill a little respect into the Hawks should these clubs meet in the play-offs.
We are talking about a game whose virtues ranged from demonstrations of individual grace (no one, anywhere, can concoct acrobatic shots the way Dominique Wilkins can), to exhibitions of joint intelligence (Larry Bird and Bill Walton on the same team leads to frequent basketball ecstasy), to the enforcement of sheer physical might (the rebound battles shook foundations in Tallahassee).
The Celtics won this game by surviving a majestic 42-point statement by Wilkins, whose 29-point first half was mainly responsible for the Hawks' 66-61 intermission lead, and by making their tired bodies play some serious defense and do some aggressive rebounding in the fourth quarter. These are the games only teams with legitimate class win. Here, after all, was a rested team with young legs (there is no more youthful team in the league), playing at home before a sellout crowd and eager to prove something to themselves by knocking off the only team in the league they had not defeated this season.
At 66-61, they looked good. At 81-74 and 83-76 and 85-78 and 87-80, they looked good. They had answered a Boston blast coming out of the locker room at the start of the third quarter, and they controlled the final nine minutes of the third period. They still looked good at 103-99 (8:19). But they were already in team foul trouble (Boston entered the bonus at 6:41), and when Jerry Sichting (a crucial 4 for 5) stuck a deep corner swisher, Boston was on the way to a 15-4 run over the next 4:23 that put the visitors ahead, 114-107.
The go-ahead sequence was started by Bird (26 points, 9 rebounds, 7 assists), who drew a foul on Cliff Levingston after making a spectacular offensive rebound. To Bird's two foul shots was affixed a technical on Levingston. Sichting made that, and the Celtics were ahead to stay at 104-103.
In the next five minutes, the Celtics would go to the line two more times on rebound fouls. The Hawks would have two follow-up baskets negated, one for goaltending (Kevin Willis) and the other via a loose-ball foul. Worse yet for the Hawks, Kevin McHale would not be penalized for blocking a Tree Rollins dunk attempt (114-109), McHale would follow a Bird miss with a gorgeous lefty tap-in (116-109), and, finally, Bird would stick a rusty dagger in their heart with a three-pointer at the 1:02 mark (119-111).