What are ya gonna do? Danny Ainge plays a spectacular game, K.C. Jones coaches a masterful game, the Celtics , en masse, comport themselves in a championship manner, and the only thing any of the 11,052 spectators can possibly be talking about when they exit the Mecca is Larry Bird.
On Saturday, Bird tormented the Bucks with 13 assists and 16 rebounds. Yesterday afternoon, he destroyed the undermanned Bucks in the final four minutes with a quartet of mind-blowing three-pointers as the Celtics completed their first four-game series sweep in five years with a 111-98 victory that wrapped up the Eastern Conference championship.
There has never been a player with Bird's diversified basketball portfolio. And there is no more demoralizing weapon in the game than the three-point shot, especially when Larry Bird takes a competitive game and reduces it to Dallas Shootout II.
With 5:21 remaining, a free throw by Sidney Moncrief brought Milwaukee within three at 95-92. Thirty-nine seconds later, Dennis Johnson fouled out, and when Jones inserted Robert Parish, it meant that Kevin McHale, Bill Walton and Parish would be together on the floor together for the first time this season, with Bird in the backcourt. The most important juxtaposition of the game was coming up. It began when Bird committed a nonshooting foul out front on Moncrief at the 4:27 mark. Moncrief took the subsequent inbounds pass, and when Bird backed off, Moncrief fired a three-point attempt that was rebounded by Ainge.
Parish found himself double-teamed on the left baseline, so he pitched the ball out to Bird, who deposited a three-pointer from right down the chute -- 98-92, and timeout, Milwaukee.
One possession later, Walton was likewise harassed, so he passed to Bird on the left. Another three-pointer -- 101-92.
Now Bird was loose, and in a playful mood. At 103-94, he received the ball behind the line on the left wing, fooled with it until the 24-second clock had nearly expired and then fired a third three-pointer. Swish. He concluded his matinee performance by throwing in a ceremonial buzzer-beating three-pointer from the dead left corner that enabled him to claim that he had outscored the Bucks, 17-16, in the final period.
Bird had entered the final period with modest totals. He had only taken one third-period shot (an air-balled three-pointer from the right corner), as the big Celtic offensive force had been Ainge (25 points, 7 rebounds, 5 assists). "They weren't running many plays for me today," Bird said. "I don't know what the deal was. I didn't have my hands on the ball as much as I like."
Boston came into the fourth period trailing by three (82-79) after having led briefly by eight (66-58) at the outset of the second half. Only the individual brilliance of the route-going Ainge (15 points in the second quarter and seven in the third) kept the Celtics alive.
But in both games out here, the fourth quarter brought forth a different Boston team. "They just glide and coast along for three quarters," sighed Terry Cummings, "and in the fourth quarter they just turn it up."
It was 84-79, Milwaukee, when the Celtics started a key push with a four- point possession. As Ainge was burying a three-point clock-beater, the foolish Charles Davis was busy blasting Bird underneath. The resultant free throw made it 84-83, and when Bird sent Parish in for a dunk, the Celtics were ahead to stay.
Milwaukee hung in, and when DJ was exiled, the Bucks had to feel pretty good. But it was Johnson's departure that resulted in the fateful Boston decision to go with the high-rise lineup.
Giving Bird, at guard, shorter people to deal with was one plus, but an equally important ramification of the new situation came on defense. The Bucks had to forget about getting anything inside.
"With Robert, Bill and Kevin in there," said Bird, "we were going to get every rebound." That's assuming the Bucks could get off a shot.
"I wish," said Don Nelson, "everyone could understand how hard it is to get a shot off when Boston wants to shut you down inside."
Milwaukee's fourth-quarter offensive output consisted of 24 percent shooting (5 for 21) and 16 points. In both Games 3 and 4 of this series, there was simply no competition when the Celtics decided to get serious.
"They were able to play at a different level than we were in the series," said Nellie. "I'm not so sure Boston isn't on a different planet compared to us mortal teams."
This series showcased Boston's wide-ranging talent, because every starter did something sinful to the Bucks. Yesterday's killer was Ainge, who reacted to a pair of second-quarter Ricky Pierce elbows (which earned his a damaging ejection) by taking over. Scoreless at the time (32-27, Milwaukee), Ainge erupted for 15 points before halftime.
Those points were vital, because it was during the second quarter that Jones, dealing with not only the absence of Scott Wedman but with across-the- board frontline foul trouble, elected to go with Ainge, DJ and Jerry Sichting for the final 8:52 of the half. Since K.C. & Co. emerged with a 62-58 lead, the strategy must be pronounced a success.