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7.03.2008

'86 Cs Begin ECFs with 32-Point Blowout

Bird & Co. Pick Up against Bucks Where they Left Off against Hawks

The days and nights of the next week suddenly stretch forever for the Milwaukee Bucks. Tomorrow is a hundred years away and Saturday is a thousand and Sunday is unthinkable.

Time stands still when you are manacled to a prison wall.

"How can we stand this?" they have to ask after last night, Game 1 of the best-of-seven NBA Eastern final playoff series at Boston Garden. "How can we survive? How?"

The final score is not the embarrassment -- Boston 128, Milwaukee 96. The game is the embarrassment. The way the Bucks played. The way the Celtics played. The way there is no hope, none whatsoever, nothing.

"How do we make this series interesting?" the average Celtics fan was asking after leaving last night's carnage. "Do we have the Celtics play with four men? Or do we have them play with three? Do we make the Celtics play in cordovan loafers? Do we send the starting five for a Miami Beach vacation? Do we simply hand the Bucks 50 points at the start of each game, a handicap event for the Celts? What?"

The poor Bucks appear to be locked into a dark room with a hive full of killer bees and a couple of buzz saws. Goodness. They seem to be caught in the leakiest of boats with only a soup spoon to bail them out. Not listening to country and western advice, they seem to be roller skating in a buffalo herd.

They may have been tired from the seven nights of effort against the Philadelphia 76ers and they may have been missing star Sidney Moncrief and forward Terry Cummings' finger might have been swollen to the size of a baseball bat, but . . . but, really. They looked as lost on the parquet floor last night as any group of Indiana Pacers, any LA/San Diego Clippers, any CYO wonder five from Herkimer, N.H., ever looked. Goodness.

They scored 12 points in an entire first period of basketball, tying a record for an NBA playoff game. They once trailed, 41-14. They once trailed, 45-16. They once trailed, 53-27. They once trailed . . . you get the idea.

They brought a new look to the playoff definition of "blowout." More than any sports team, they resembled Walter Mondale on election night, sitting there at home with the popcorn and television, finding that the election was badly lost before 99 percent of the polls had closed. Goodness.

"What else is there we can try?" the Bucks have to ask. "What can we do?"

Don Nelson has about a thousand different lineup combinations he can use and he tried them all. He tried a lot of big people at one time. He tried a lot of small people at one time. He tried big people and small people and in- between people. He tried people who bumped. He tried people who fell down every time they were bumped. He tried people who like to shoot three-point field goals. He tried people who can only shoot three-inch field goals. Who was left? He did not try the trainer. He did not try the assistant coach or himself. That was all.

"How many more games of this do we have to play?" the poor Bucks have to ask. "Three. We have to play three? Couldn't this be a best-of-five, a best- of-three? Couldn't -- hey, let's call the whole thing off -- this be a best-of-one? Isn't that what they do in football? Couldn't that have been the Super Bowl?"

Maybe that is a good analogy. Suppose the Super Bowl had been a best-of- seven. Suppose the Patriots had to play the Chicago Bears at least three more times before they could return to hearth and kin. Goodness. Just suppose. Could the Patriots have been able to look at three more consecutive appearances of Mr. Richard Dent and Mr. William Perry? Goodness.

The Milwaukee Bucks hit 17 percent of their shots in that dismal first quarter, 37.5 percent for the game. The Milwaukee Bucks hit three of their first 10 foul shots. How tired could they have been? Could they have been that tired?

"I think we just tried too hard," forward Cummings said. "If you get up for a game you just don't play very well and there's nothing you really can do about it."

Were they too ready, too high? Was that it? Could that have been it? Were they too low, too flat, emotionally drained? Was that it? What?

"It sure looks like an emotional letdown," coach Don Nelson said. "Judging by the lopsided score and the fact that we didn't play well, it sure looks that way."

What can Nelson do? What can the Bucks do? Is Sidney Moncrief -- good as he is -- able to stop a 41-16 start to a basketball game? Can minds and psyches be repaired in that sort of a hurry, while-U-wait, as easily as a pair of Cat's Paw heels? What alternatives are there? What chance?

The only nagging memory that can give the Bucks any hope at all is the memory of the first game of the NBA finals a year ago, Boston 148, Los Angeles Lakers 114. Didn't the Celtics have the same kind of dance in that game? Didn't the Lakers come back and win in the end, not even needing a seventh game? Couldn't the Bucks do the same thing? Couldn't they?

"Sure we could," they have to say, waking this morning in their chains. "That's the ticket, sure we could. We could do what the Lakers did with Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and with Magic Johnson. Sure we could."

The only problem is that they don't have Kareem Abdul-Jabbar on the bench and they don't have Magic and they don't have hope. One game into the playoffs and the Bucks have to know -- as anyone who was at the Garden last night knows -- they are hanging in the wind.

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