1981-82 Boston Celtics
Q: When is a 21-point game not a 21-point game?
A: When the opponent is the thrill-a-minute, take-it-to-ya Golden State Warriors.
It was just flat-out spectating fun for the nightly 15,320 at the Garden last night, as the rested Celtics responded to the offensive challenge flung their way by Al Attles' entertaining young ballclub with a strong scoring and rebounding effort that resulted in a misleading 122-101 decision for Boston's 11th triumph in 13 games.
The Celtics were unable to shake the persistent visitors until the eight- minute mark of the final period, when the quintet of Rick Robey, Kevin McHale, Cedric Maxwell, Gerry Henderson and Chris Ford pushed the margin over 10 points and set the stage for what would be a crowd-pleasing final five minutes of garbage time. But the Warriors had provided serious competition over the first 40 minutes, serving notice to Boston that good things are happening out there in the Bay Area.
Among other distinctions, this game was sort of a symbolic preview of all those football battles that will be taking place across the country today. The physical contact was decidedly unsubtle, whether underneath or out front. And referees Jack Madden and Lee Jones were either unwilling or unable to change the tenor of the game. It started rough, and it ended rough.
The everlasting image taken home by the fans will be that of bodies flying. "There was," observed a contented Bill Fitch, "a lot of people diving for loose balls and a lot of overall hustle. I thought the defensive intensity of both teams was outstanding. There were a lot of bodies cracking each other underneath, and some hard picks set at midcourt."
One of the differences between the clubs was the ability to make consistently good offense-to-defense transitions. Boston could, and Golden State couldn't. The Warriors accumulated a good percentage of their 20 fast- break points from Boston turnovers, while the Celtics got a nice slice of their 33 fast-break points from defensive rebounds. With their great passing ability, especially among the front court players, the Celtics are, admittedly, a difficult team to defense, but Golden State simply failed to execute defensively, and in so failing lost this game.
A perfect example of Boston's unmatched running style came at 92-84, with 8:37 remaining. Each team had already demonstrated the ability to score points in bursts, and there was no reason to believe the Warriors didn't have a good spurt left. The key sequence started, as so many do, with a great McHale play, as Kevin switched off to block a Lloyd Free shot, the rebound going out to Joey Hassett, who missed a medium-range jumper. On the transition, the ball moved expertly from McHale back to Maxwell, who took the Minnesotan's Bird-like redirected pass and laid the ball in to give Boston its first 10-point lead of a hard-fought game. It was typical of the Celtics' general ability to create scoring opportunities denied normal teams.
The scoring-in-spurts business began in the first period when the Warriors broke a 12-12 tie with six points in 57 seconds en route to a 28-25 one-period lead. The Celtics, meanwhile, reciprocated in the second period, turning a 46-42 Golden State lead into a 59-52 Boston halftime advantage with a 17-6 run that consumed just 4:47. The Celtics struck quickly at the end of the third quarter, as well, turning an 80-77 lead with 2:03 left into an 88-79 advantage, the final basket being a squirming baseline buzzer-beater by Maxwell, who, in addition to submitting a fine defensive job on the dangerous Bernard King, scored all 12 of his points in the second half.
The roster of Boston players worthy of special praise included Tiny Archibald, with 15 points and a season-high 13 assists; Robey, whose 11 tough rebounds gave him a total of 38 in his last four games; Robert Parish, whose 20 points and 13 rebounds included six offensive retrieves; and a guy named Larry Bird, whose 32-point, 15-for-24 figures indicated to the Warriors that his famed scoreless fiasco of last Jan. 2 was clearly the result of supernatural intervention and not outstanding Golden State defense.
This game wasn't memorable, or especially significant. But it was a reasonably nice presentation of the product and attending it was a lot better than staying home watching the telly. It was also informative, since anyone watching it realized that the day may not be too far off when somebody will rue the day Golden State was drawn as a playoff opponent.