Bird Brilliant in Pre-Season Opener

1981-82 Boston Celtics

For what it's worth, it's possible that the Celtics have never looked better in Hartford. And few basketball players ever looked better than Larry Bird did, in any building, at any time of year.

With Bird scoring 33 points ( Celtics historians are invited to research the last time a Boston player scored over 30 points in an exhibition game), and with the 76ers contributing 35 turnovers, the Celtics began the exhibition campaign with a relatively easy 103-94 triumph over the Philadelphians last night before an appreciative crowd of 11,271 at the Civic Center.

Bird connected on his first five shots en route to a 15-point first quarter as the Celtics led at every checkpoint during the aggressively played game. He began his scoring with a three-pointer that gave the Celtics an 8-4 lead, and those were the first three of a run in which Bird would score 11 of 12 Boston points. He and Robert Parish combined for 21 of Boston's 27 first- period points. By the period's end, Bird would be shooting 7 for 8 and the crowd would already have its money's worth.

"This game," suggested Bill Fitch, "was a stroke of PR for the NBA because the Hartford fans saw intensity in this game you don't see in a lot of midseason games."

Billy Cunningham, meanwhile, wouldn't deny the intensity, although he thought some his team's energy was poorly applied. "We played hard, but that was about it," he noted. "It's pretty difficult to evaluate what we did on offense when we had 40 turnovers."

Actually, the figure was 35, but why quibble? For the record, the 76ers yielded the ball on three of their first four and seven of their first 10 possessions, but who's counting?

The fan interest concerning the outcome was maintained until the midway point of the final quarter, at which time the Sixers had managed to slice a 14-point (83-69) deficit to four while enjoying the enticing prospect of watching Rick Robey step to the foul line.

Robey clanked two up there, naturally, but he immediately salvaged the situation by hustling for the rebound of his second long miss. The eventual result of his tenacity was a pair of Gerald Henderson free throws that inaugurated a run of eight straight points that eliminated competition for the rest of the evening.

Said Bird of his own performance: "I was pleased with my shooting and movement early, but I did get tired near the end."

"Larry," observed Julius Erving, "was ready."

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