10.09.2008

C's Rely on another Late-Game Surge to Down Kings

C's Win Fifth Straight behind 26-10 Run

1981-82 Boston Celtics

On Friday it was the 9 inute drill. On Tuesday it was a 4-minute drill. Last night, a 6-minute, 45-second drill. The Celtics don't win games; they destroy them.

From one point down (86-85) with 10:14 remaining, the Celtics efficiently and cold-bloodedly ran off 12 straight points, eventually stretching out the punishment to runs of 20-6 and, finally, 26-10. Thus did the game Kansas City Kings become victim No. 6 of the 1981-82 Celtics ' season, the final score being 115-100.

And when it was over, the absolute straight-talkingest man in the NBA explained what had happened. His name is Cotton Fitzsimmons, and he's been bringing basketball teams into Boston Garden for a long time, most of them better than the one he is wet-nursing now. Here is what the Kings' coach had to say:

"They just waited until they had to do it," Fitzsimmons explained. "There is an old midwestern saying to cover this, which is that they just piddled around for a while. They had us under control, even when we were ahead. I know that. They came after us and forced us into mistakes, and took advantage of everything."

With the Celtics ahead, 89-86, Bill Fitch made the game's key strategical move, sending Larry Bird and Rick Robey into the game for Robert Parish and Cedric Maxwell. Those two joined forces with Kevin (15 points, 5 blocks) McHale, Gerry Henderson and Tiny (Mr. Indispensible) Archibald to change the course of the ballgame.

Fitzsimmons tried to keep the Celtics in control, calling timeouts at 91-86 (a McHale fast-break ramble, started when he had bothered a Cliff Robinson shot and Robey had rebounded) and at 95-86 (a Henderson touchdown pass from the alert, aggressive Robey). But nothing mattered, not with Bird into one of his mercurial grooves. Ah, Bird, what's left to say? He continually provided excitement at both ends, his fourth-quarter exploits ranging from strong drives to outside pops to a vicious strippng of Steve Johnson that led to a Robey sneakaway two-hand shovel drive.

The game-winning spurt helped dim the memory of the first three quarters, which is not necessarily a bad thing. The first half would have ranked well outside anyone's top 74,357 sports thrills, consisting as it did of incessant whistles, particularly during the interminable second period. Boston led, 58-56, at the intermission, thanks mainly to a strong first period by Parish, who had 15 of his 26 points and 10 of his 14 rebounds in the first 12 minutes.

Kansas City provided competition through the three-quarter mark because the Celtics had neither an idea of how to stop Robinson (26) from shooting just about any type of shot he wanted, nor a clue to keeping Reggie King (21) from shooting turnaround jumpers in the face of anyone he chose. Robinson was particularly effective in the final 2:28 of the third period, when his eight consecutive KC points pulled the Kings within a point, 81-80, by the end of the quarter.

Fitch professes not to be alarmed about Boston's sporadic offensive play of late because, being a traditional coach, he likes the basic team defense. "Posting up is their strength," he declared. "They're even better at it than we are. But we have fallen off some in our shooting, and our shot selection could be better. We're not going through all the options often enough." Indeed, one of the culprits in this regard has been Bird, who, despite compiling a season-high 30 points, was guilty of some poor offensive decisions.

Bad decisions or no, he still makes more good ones than anyone else in the game. And the Celtics are still 6-1. Any team that can play the way they've been playing and still win must really be good.

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