When is a game lost? Kevin McHale remembers watching the Canadiens blowing out the Rangers Saturday night. "It was 5-1 after the second period," he said. He glanced at the clock -- 10:15 p.m. -- and dozed off.
He woke up yesterday morning. He appeared at the Omni for the Celtics ' game unshaven and groggy. He was 4 of 11 at halftime.
"My biggest downfall was that I didn't watch the third period of the Rangers game," he said. "The Rangers are in it and all of a sudden it's 5-1. I fall asleep, 10 hours asleep, I come to the game, I'm groggy, I play like diddly."
Across the locker room sat his partner in misery. Larry Bird was 1 of 10 at halftime. The Celtics' Ruth and Gehrig finished for a combined 12 of 38. Do not search for coincidences that their team lost, 106-94, to the Atlanta Hawks. "I missed my first few," Bird said, "and it sort of rubbed off on Kevin."
Bird's first field goal was a rebounded layup 13:55 into the game. He had missed his first eight attempts. "I had wide open shots and I don't really like that," he said. "I like guys guarding me when I shoot, believe it or not . . . I had so many easy shots. Everything was coming so easy. I was not having to work for everything."
McHale (7 of 19 for the game) was not exactly a whiff of Old Spice in the armpit of Atlanta's defense. "Sure they were playing me tight," he said. "But once you make your initial move -- once I get into my shot . . . (Atlanta center Jon) Koncak stood there three times with his arms straight up like I was holding up a liquor store and I just shot three bricks. We (he and Bird) were tossing up bricks all afternoon."
But at what cost? "I didn't really realize it until DJ said something at halftime," Bird said. "He said that me and Kevin had shot very poor in the first half and we still led by a point . . . I don't press very much. We had a three-game lead and a one-point lead at halftime. There's no sense in pressing."
In reality, "We should have been blown out," he said.
Bird (5 of 19) threatened to light his fuse with a successful 22-foot jumper to begin the second half. But he waited nine minutes before his next official attempt, and by then Spud Webb had pulled an Eddie Gaedel and become the game's dominant figure. Late in the third quarter Bird missed a three- pointer, which he Xeroxed to begin the fourth.
"I was feeling good," he said. "Every shot I took was on target. They were just short."
His right pinky appears ready to give birth to a ring finger. "It feels good," Bird said. "It's fine. I didn't shoot as much today as I do normally before a game. I come and go. I didn't shoot as much yesterday (in Saturday's practice) as I wanted. I'm a 50 percent shooter. I think I'm shooting 56 percent right now. That will all even out before the play-offs are over."
McHale and Bird attempted most of Boston's half-court attempts down the stretch, but McHale had been taken out of his normal game by his inability to make 5-footers and his team's remarkable ability to botch the fast-break opportunities that make life easier for everybody. "This team, unfortunately, has a history of having little letdowns now and then," McHale said. "We just basically didn't play well. I give the Hawks credit. They played well enough to win. But this sure wasn't a banner performance by the Boston Celtics, that's for sure.
"We did this two years ago against Milwaukee, and against the Sixers, too. Hopefully we'll get rattled enough to play well Tuesday. Sometimes we don't get aggressive enough. Maybe we felt in the backs of our minds it was over with. It's disappointing. We wanted to get this over with today."
The moral of this story? "I learned my lesson," McHale said. "Don't follow the Rangers."