A flick of assorted Celtic wrists and another X appears on the calendar: 12 days (five games) until the play-offs and, perhaps, history.
Last night's 119-98 decision over the hapless Knicks was Boston's 38th at home, breaking the NBA record set by two recent versions each of the Lakers and the 76ers. Of course, the Celtics retained hope of tying the 1971-72 Lakers for the best season ever (69-13). And they clinched the best overall record in the NBA this season, which guarantees them the home-court advantage for as long as they last in the play-offs.
Boston left little room for doubt. Danny Ainge began it all with consecutive three-pointers and eight of the Green's first 10 points. The Knicks kept pace for four minutes, fell behind by 10, twice cut the deficit to six, then were blown out of the Garden.
This was a night when Larry Bird didn't seem too disappointed to be missing most of his jumpers. In a sequence typical of the unnecessary second half -- the Celtics leading by 26 early in the third quarter -- Bird ignored the crowd's vocalized hopes for a three-pointer, instead playing pattycake-pass until the Celts finally turned it over. No problem. Robert Parish somehow took the ball from Trent Tucker and jammed it through twine and, it seemed, deep into Hubie Brown's already swollen larynx.
But what's a New York coach to do? If Brown can make it there, he can make it anywhere. Injuries to key players too numerous to mention have carried the Knicks into this seven-game losing streak (they've lost 26 of their last 30). The Celtics, meanwhile, have won 14 straight, best in the league this year. Was it only two years ago that the play-off Knicks took Boston to a seventh game?
Back to the present. Powerful center Ken Bannister kept the Knicks barely alive early in the second quarter as they outrebounded the Celtics for a short stretch and made it a 48-39 game midway into the period. But the Celtics ran off eight straight with a lineup of Parish, Jerry Sichting, Greg Kite, Scott Wedman and Rick Carlisle, and any further Brown timeouts (he had used three already) were whistled in vain. The Celtics carried a 68-44 advantage into the halftime locker room and opened the fourth quarter ahead, 96-68, with Sam Vincent, David Thirdkill and Kite on the floor.
The opening minutes helped prove the importance of arriving at a game on time. Boston played with the ease of a scrimmage; in reality, the Green Team may have given the Celtics starters a tougher time than New York offered last night.
The Celtics obviously wanted to make an easy night of it, scoring their first 11 times down the floor and converting nine of their first 10 field goals. These were not of the big guys vs. little guys variety.
Ainge knocked in consecutive three-pointers in the first 1:33, the second on a dropoff from Bird as Larry headed into the corner. Dennis Johnson over with a pair of keytoppers, and Kevin McHale rebounded Ainge's misfired (horrors) jumper. The Celtics were in the middle of an eight-point run when a Bird touchdown pass became an Ainge 6-footer.
Which was a coincidence, since the Knicks were close to being 6 feet under. The Celtics were on a 192-point pace when they called time with six minutes left in the quarter.
The Knicks made their first-half run, if you could call it that, by trimming a 24-14 Celtics edge to six points. But Bird accepted DJ's offering from the top for an easy lay-in, then threw in a lazy 20-footer, and Boston -- having sunk 12 of 16 now -- was in firm control with a 10-point advantage, and when Bird hit the breaking DJ with a Frisbee one-bounce pass, the remaining 38 minutes reeked of garbage time.
Bird seemed unconcerned with his 4-for-10 shooting half, preferring to backhand passes down low to DJ. The Celtics also missed eight of their 14 free throw attempts in the opening 24.