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3.19.2008

1986 Cs Beat Spurs, Move to 52-13

Was it something vaguely like this in the old pre-radio and pre-TV days, when vaudevillians and acting companies and concert performers endlessly crisscrossed the country, bringing otherwise unobtainable entertainment to the locals?

After all, what are the Celtics these days but an entertainment troupe? And what is Larry Bird but a Ted Lewis, a Galli-Curci or a Barrymore? They are an attraction, and he is an Attraction! Last night the attraction shot a surrealistic 80 percent (32 for 40) in the first half while pounding the short-handed Spurs by a 135-119 score, even as the Attraction! was electrifying his followers by shooting a perfect 11 for 11, by making four three-point shots and scoring 31 points -- all in the first half.

Bird/The Attraction! made certain that the 14,218 Hemisfair fans would go home talking about his annual visit; that's for sure. "In the first half," said San Antonio's Jeff Lamp, "Bird was a joke, an absolute joke. The thing that makes him so great, apart from his feel for the game, is his versatility. He hit four three-pointers in the half, but the majority of his points were scored by posting up."

His first offensive burst certainly got everyone's attention. With the Celtics trailing, 8-6, following some early sparring, he gave them a nonrefundable lead by scoring eight points in four consecutive possessions totaling 68 seconds. He started with two free throws. He then came down on a transition and swished a three-pointer on the right wing. When the Spurs missed, he came down on the transition and threw up another three-pointer from the same spot, only this time off the dribble. Another swish. That's eight quickies. David Greenwood answered with a jumper, but Bird promptly took a feed from Dennis Johnson on a right-to-left cut and laid the ball in left- handed.

The Celtics went on to shoot 76 percent in the period (Kevin McHale and DJ were also stroking it nicely), but were still ahead by a mere three points as late as 35-32 (1:25 remaining) for two reasons.

The first was a penchant for turnovers that would reach absurd proportions by halftime, when the stat sheet revealed that Boston had handed San Antonio 20 points via 16 turnovers. The second was that, as of this moment, there is no indication that McHale realized he was supposed to be guarding first Mike Mitchell (30) and then Lamp (25), most of whose combined 34 first-half points came on simple, open H-O-R-S-E jumpers.

Here are two views on the turnovers. First, losing coach Cotton Fitzsimmons: "We played hard, and it's a good thing. The way they were shooting, without the turnovers, we could have been down by 40 at the half." Secondly, Bird: "It was just a matter of guys not moving to the ball."

The fact remains that despite this dazzling Boston shooting, the biggest first-half margin was 13 (at 49-36 and 52-39, both the results of Bird second- quarter three-pointers), and it took a second-chance buzzer-beater by McHale to send the Celtics into the locker room up by 11 (a startling 80-69) at the half. The Celtics had shot so well that San Antonio's Jeff Wilkins had the only three defensive rebounds available to his team.

So there was still a game to be won, despite Bird's ridiculous halftime numbers (including six multiple-point shots). But it did not take too long for the Celtics to eliminate the suspense. Quick baskets by Robert Parish (17 points), Danny Ainge (10), Parish and DJ (15) boosted the lead to 19, and you didn't need your PhD in Hoopology to know that a San Antonio team playing without Artis Gilmore (pulled hamstring) and Steve Johnson (bone spurs in his left ankle) wasn't coming back against this Celtics squad.

The only question left was, "What else can, or will, Bird do?" The answer was, "Not much." He didn't shoot until the 4:33 mark of the quarter, when he sank a running lefty hook. Some 39 seconds later, he missed his only shot of the night, a three-pointer from the right. He later admitted he did not realize he was working on a perfect night. He did not play in the fourth quarter.

But he had earned his money, and he had gained even more respect from an opposing team. "He's a bad dude," sighed Fitzsimmons. "That's what the guys in my locker room are saying. Larry Bird is a bad dude."

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