6.19.2008

84 Ls Couldn't Stop Cs Simplified Offense

And on the last Tuesday of the season, the troubles vanished. The heat wave left with the 83-degree Boston afternoon; conditions in The Garden (90 degrees) wouldn't be the excuse. The injuries were fairly even: LA forward Bob McAdoo (sore Achilles tendon) and Celtic forward-guard Scott Wedman (hairline fracture of the left fibula) probably would not play; the tendinitis in LA guard Magic Johnson's knee was bothering him, and Boston guard M.L. Carr would wear goggles in case someone decided to toss beer in his eyes again.

Fights? This would be too important to fight about.

Boston's home-court advantage apparently would be the most important factor, and it had not been left to chance. The Celtics had earned it with the league's best record.

Laker fan Jack Nicholson was in town for the game but would decline interviews.

"It's not my show," he said, "it's theirs." And what remained was this seventh game.

The Celtics had simplified their offense from 10 to 11 plays in Game 1 to four or five in No. 7. "Getting it inside was a first half priority," said Celtic assistant coach Jimmy Rodgers. Though the Lakers were forcing seven lead changes in the 30-30 first quarter, the Celtics were establishing inside dominance with forward Cedric Maxwell (24 points, 8 rebounds, 8 assists).

Except for when James Worthy shoved Maxwell into the basket support in Game 6 and during Max' entertaining interviews, the 6-foot-8, 217-pound forward was almost forgotten. But his incident with Worthy had brought out the best - or worst - in Max. His emergence began with a Bird 20-foot backhand bounce pass to Max underneath for his first basket and a tie at 12. He drew a foul from Rambis away from the ball, scored in transition and went to the line when Michael Cooper fouled him on the offensive boards for the first two of 13 free throws (he made 11 for 17 points in the half). He taunted Worthy between plays. "I said, James, this isn't the 2-A league. This is the big time, and you have to guard me,' " Max said.

The Celtics took the lead for good a minute into the second quarter when Bird (20 points on 6-of-18, but 12 rebounds) began an 8-0 run with two free throws and a layin behind Cooper. Danny Ainge took a give-and-go from Bird and added a 17-footer for a 40-34 lead. Maxwell's three-point, leaning turnaround put Boston ahead by nine, and two foul shots he drew from LA reserve center Mitch Kupchak (a surprising 7 minutes) kept it there. LA cut it to four late in the half, but Max' three free throws and Bird's end-to-end slam drew a noise explosion from what might have been The Garden's loudest Celtic crowd ever. The half ended 58-52, Celtics, despite their having hit only three perimeter shots.

LA cut it to one in the third, and the Celtics lead was only 82-78 with 2:44 left in the quarter. Then, while Bird sat on the bench, Boston went on a 9-0 run to end the period at 91-78.

The key stretch began with McHale's 16-footer over LA center Kareem Abdul Jabbar. Ainge hit a 20-footer, Parish sunk three free throws while the Garden shook, and McHale added a pair at :02 of the third after Cooper fouled him on a breakaway. Jabbar missed two of LA's three shots during the run. Maxwell and Henderson high-fived at halfcourt before the period was done, and Max wasn't even playing then.

The lead grew to 99-85 with 7:58 left. And then Jabbar (29 points), Johnson (limping for 5-of-14 for 16 points) and three 24-second violations against Boston brought LA to within 105-100 with less than 2 minutes left.

Then DJ left Magic standing aghast as he broke downcourt with a steal. His layin was blocked magnificently by Cooper, and Worthy returned to swish a 14- footer for 105-102 at 1:12. Bird missed a fallaway going across the key, but Parish blocked Magic's shot, and DJ (22 points) drew a foul and sank two free throws for 107-102 at :45. Cooper missed a 3-pointer, and Jabbar clanged the short follow, allowing Bird to hit two free throws to finish them. The last 30 seconds were delayed to keep the crowd off the court, but only the matter of the final score - 111-102 - remained. Boston was 8-0 in finals against the Lakers, 5-2 in the seventh game of the finals, and the winner of its 15th world champion banner.

Some overwrought fans attacked the Lakers as the ran off the court, trying to steal Jabbar's glasses and uniform and even punching him, he said, but perhaps more humiliating had been that Boston had outrebounded LA, 52-33, allowing a .395-shooting team to win a final game.

Bird was voted the unanimous MVP, and Red Auerbach, in his last game as Celtics GM, went out a champion. Coach K.C. Jones celebrated in a corner of the locker room. He was near tears. "I like this," he said. "I've got to say I like this."

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