Green Improves to 66-15
To which any halfway reasonable Celtic fan could only say, "Hallelujah!" Based on what we've seen the last three times the Celtics have played the Cavs, a play-off series with them would have been as exciting as changing a tire.
Take last night -- please. The Celtics approached the game as if it were an intrasquad scrimmage in the middle of January, and they still dispatched the Cavs by a 117-104 score. Was it easy? Well, neither Larry Bird, Robert Parish nor Dennis Johnson played in the fourth quarter and the closest the Cavaliers could come was 11.
Chris Ford actually ran the team in Milwaukee Tuesday night, you may recall, and last night it was assistant coach Jimmy Rodgers' turn. (Ed. note: Can you imagine Bill Fitch doing this?) K.C. Jones says he'll be coaching tomorrow, however. "I get jealous too," he pointed out.
Suspense in this game consisted of the Cavaliers moving into a 4-0 lead on baskets by Fast Eddie Johnson and Keith Lee. Then Bird, again into his feeding mode (six assists in the first half), hit a cutting Johnson for a basket to initiate a Celtic run of 14 unanswered points, the first 10 of which would have made Uncle Arnold so very proud since they were put on the board by five people. Having built that 10-point (14-4) lead, the Celtics proceeded to sit on it for the remainder of the quarter. And half, for that matter.
"Just a typical Boston game," said Cavaliers coach Gene Littles. "If you watch Boston play 82 games, that's what you see. They play in spurts. Bird plays in spurts. Then they coast a little bit. Then they put on another little spurt and they put you away."
While the Celtics as a unit proved to be unfathomable for the Cavaliers' defense, three individuals in particular tormented them in various ways. The first was Kevin McHale, who shot a casual 12 for 14 en route to a 30-point evening. The second was Johnson (16), who displayed great shooting rhythm while sinking five consxecutive jumpers in one stretch. The third was Bill Walton, who spent the entire second quarter doing his finest imitation of an enraged mother eagle guarding her nest. Walton blocked four shots and was a key figure in one of those troublesome spurts Littles to which was referring.
This particular blast was in response to an uppity Cleveland incursion that had brought the visitors within four at 50-46 with 4:03 remaining in the half. Johnson started the run with a jump shot, but it was Walton who demoralized the Cavaliers with backhand blocks on successive Cleveland possessions, the first leading to a McHale driving fast-break scoop shot and the second to a pair of McHale post-up free throws. The initial run went as far as 10-0, and the entire scope of it was 16-5 in the final four minutes as the Celtics took a nice 66-51 lead into the locker room.
"With Walton, they'll be that much tougher than Philly or LA," analyzed Free (28). "He's playing like the Bill Walton of the Portland Trail Blazers. He's a big guy who can score, but he doesn't have to."
Boston then came out strong in period three, connecting on five of their first six shots to grab a 77-57 lead with 8:56 remaining in the third period on a running banker by Bird. At this point, the Celtics were shooting 63 percent and all the heavy lifting was done for the evening.
During the course of this languid affair, the fans got to see a few things of interest. If they paid attention, they would have seen an intriguing front line of Parish, Walton and Greg Kite out there for a four-minute stretch of the second quarter. (Pop Quiz: Who's the small forward?) And in the late stages, they got to see an energetic Kiddie Korps quarterbacked by Sam Vincent and inspired by David Thirdkill run off three beautiful fast breaks, culminating in a spectacular alley-oop from Vincent at half-court to a streaking Thirdkill, who smashed the ball home to the roar of the unprepared Garden crowd.
But the best news of all came later when it was ascertained that the Celtics will not have any more of those pointless exercises against the Cavaliers, whom they have played three times in the past 14 games and whom they have beaten by 30, 18 and a 13 that could have been 30.