Long ago and far away, in a chilly land where the winters are long and the women are blond, a basketball record was set. A team called the Minneapolis Lakers, whose stars were named Mikan, Mikkelsen and Pollard, won 27 straight home games, often aided by a pair of petrified officials, which was the custom in those days. But that record is theirs no longer.
The Celtics own it now.
With all due respect to the athletic memory of the 1949-50 Minneapolis frontcourt trio, the Laker men of yore were Model T's compared to the elongated Rolls-Royces currently gracing the Celtics' lineup. Kevin McHale (24 points, 8 rebounds), Robert Parish (season-high 30 points, 18 rebounds) and Larry Bird (29 points, 11 rebounds and 13 assists for triple double No. 9 of the season) put on a display of ummatched frontcourt power and finesse as the Celtics won the record-breaking consecutive home game No. 28, blowing out the Isiah Thomas-less Detroit Pistons, 122-106, at the Garden last night.
As they had the night before, the Celtics allowed an opponent the illusion of competition, leading by a mere deuce (57-55) as the teams broke for intermission, and then only because McHale had grabbed a long rebound and stuck in a 13-foot jumper in the lane with four seconds to play. But the Celtics imposed reality on the visitors in the third quarter, breaking out with a barrage of crowd-pleasing fast breaks, plus the obligatory Bird three- pointer to establish control of the game.
The third-period lead swelled to 14 (80-66 and 82-68) before the visitors came up with one last countersurge, creeping within nine (88-79) by the period's end.
This incursion served only to recharge the Celtics' competitive juices, especially the ones flowing through Bird, who came back from what amounted to a mental night off in Richfield to play one of those games that could be studied by future hoopologists in the same manner that a Talmudic scholar would examine a parchment from the Holy Land, the thinking being that somewhere in the midst of Bird's numerous actions lies the Meaning of Basketball.
What Detriot coach Chuck Daly was sure of, meanwhile, was that Bird's play had guaranteed the Pistons would know the meaning of defeat.
"There has never been, and never will be, a player like Bird," Daly declared. "He manufactures things no one else does. He puts the ball at the right speed with the right spin, just exactly where it should be. He's very difficult to defend because in addition to him, the others are very talented -- and very big."
That they are, and you can throw in fluid, intelligent, determined and grateful to be playing alongside Bird. You think McHale doesn't realize that only one forward exists who could go up for a defensive rebound and throw a 50-foot outlet before hitting the floor so his teammate could enjoy a sneakaway dunk? You think Parish doesn't know that only one forward exists who would (a) set a pick for him at the foul line and then (b) rebound his miss and pass up a 6-footer to slip it right back to him for a jam? They know, all right.
And Daly knows that his team didn't have much chance of defeating the Celtics last night, not without the ailing Thomas (hamstring pull) and not the way the Celtics are playing these days. "In order for us to defeat them," explained the ever candid Daly, "we would need all our guys to be here, all to play well and then to have Vinnie (Johnson) or somebody play way above normal. We didn't get that tonight."
Say this much: The Pistons did lead, 4-0, in the first 1:11, and not many recent visitors to the Garden can make such a statement. That was apparently an irritation to Bird, because in the next three minutes or so, he gave new meaning to the word "active," at least as it applies to a basketball player.
The ubiquitous Mr. Bird poked his Hoosier nose into every bit of basketball business imaginable, the result being that when Boston called a timeout at the 6:47 mark (12-9, Celtics), he had already accounted for six points, four rebounds, an assist, a block, a steal, a turnover, a personal foul, a keep- alive (resulting in two points for Parish), one left-handed runner and two three-point misses.
All this activity consumed 3 minutes 39 seconds, starting with a long jumper (call it a 2 1/2-pointer) and culminating in two free throws. And it was all well before he ended the quarter with a long, long, buzzer-beating three-pointer to complete a 15-point, 6-rebound statement.
But Bird was only a partial story. There were the unstoppable post-up moves of McHale ("A problem for everybody in the league" -- Daly) and the all- around might of Parish, who has never before looked this fresh in April. And what else is there to say about Dennis Johnson (12 points, 7 assists), except that the Celtics can't go very far without him?
Celtic milestones are everywhere these days. They've won 13 straight. They've tied a record with 37 home victories in one season. They've won 50 games more than they've lost. The Magic Number to clinch the best overall record in the NBA is one.