Celtics Sleepwalk Way to Home Win
The snap, the crackle, the pop of Game 1 -- of any playoff game -- was missing. It usually is after massive blowouts, and the Celtics are fortunate to have won.
Unable to sustain a run longer than two or three minutes, the Celtics struggled to a 122-111 victory over the Bucks last night to go two up in their Eastern Conference final series. If they play a game like this tomorrow afternoon on the other guy's court, the series will quickly be 2-1.
Milwaukee's incessant doubling-down on the big people made it mandatory for the Boston guards to make shots, and they did just that. Danny Ainge, with a key 11-point third period, had 23, as did backcourt mate Dennis Johnson.
The Bucks were resilient in this game. They never led, but with 6:10 remaining a fallaway by Terry Cummings capped a run of nine straight and pulled them within four at 99-95, the closest Milwaukee incursion since 33-29 late in Period 1.
But that's as far as it went. Craig Hodges committed an unpardonable sin, fouling Johnson far away from the hoop as the 24-second clock was expiring. DJ sank both, and when Larry Bird rebounded a Johnson miss and fed Robert Parish for a 10-foot turnaround, the pressure was relieved.
Milwaukee was still hanging tough at 107-101 with three minutes left when it received a very bad break. The trap ws on, and Ainge clearly stepped out of bounds at midcourt. No call. Things got worse for Milwaukee when Bird fed Kevin McHale for an inside three-pointer.
The Celtics exited the floor at the half to the tepid applause of approximately 11 people, apparently the only patrons not put asleep by the dull proceedings. The score was Boston 63, Milwaukee 55, which tells you nothing about the excruciating dullness of the first half.
Boston never trailed, which isn't bad for a team that spent a good portion of the half trying to keep itself awake. It was 36-29 after one period, and the Celtics actually had a 13-point lead (62-49) with 1:29 remaining in the half before allowing the Bucks a modest 6-1 run to close out the half.
Take away Johnson's memorable first-quarter 75-foot mistake basket, and this game had nothing to recommend it. The Celtics' strategy appeared to be twofold. 1. Run the clock down and throw it to someone for a clock-beater. 2. Get Milwaukee into the bonus and try to get to the foul line by posting people up and hoping the unfathomable Lee Jones could be tricked into calling a foul. What Jones was doing within two states of a playoff game is another matter.
Milwaukee was at least ready to play this time. The Bucks never allowed the Celtics to step out, limiting Boston to a largest first-quarter margin of eight (29-21) and managing to keep from being blown out in the second quarter, largely because of the efforts of Randy Breuer, who threw in enough hooks, turnarounds and dunks to provide the visitors with a respectable inside game.
When not running (the Celtics were 7 for 7 in transition situations), Boston relied more on pure post-up ball than anything else. And this style was hardly limited to the big people, as DJ spent a good deal of the time with his back to the basket (once spinning in for a textbok reverse lay-up), as well.
The Celtics threatened to take charge a couple of times, moving the lead up to 10 for the first time at 44-34 (a nice Ainge drive), but each time they appeared to be on the verge of something good they ruined it with either a bad shot or a turnover resulting from a too-fancy pass.
The ticking bomb was Bird. He scored a very easy 17 and, if anything, appeared to be bored with conventional basketball. He established that he could post up at will, which on this team is hardly a distinguishing characteristic.
DJ's 75-foot excuse-me three-pointer was the highlight of a medium-speed first period that ended with a 36-29 Celtic lead.
DJ's basket was a lead pass intended for Bird, but the ball sailed through the hoop, leaving Johnson standing not far from the Milwaukee foul line looking absolutely astounded. Old-timers will recall that Bill Sharman once pulled off a similar feat with a pass intended for Bob Cousy in the All-Star Game, no less.
The mighty DJ hoop made the score 29-21, Boston, but it certainly didn't faze Milwaukee's Craig Hodges, who responded with a conventional three-pointer to keep his team even at the time.
Boston moved into a quick 4-0 lead on a pair of Bird baskets, and the Celtics would not relinquish that lead for the duration of the period. A fast- break burst gave them the first of six seven-point leads they would attain in the quarter, and forced Don Nelson into an early timeout. The halt in play didn't appear to stimulate the Bucks as much as it did deflate the Celtics, who never really got into a characteristic offensive rhythm, no matter what the scoreboard would claim.