Green Moves to 8-1
1981-82 Boston Celtics
They can't all be Rembrandts, you know.
Some go smoothly, but others are like this one, which is to say they are just tough nights on the road, games that can be won if the superior team is just good enough, just smart enough, just lucky enough and just respected enough, as the Celtics are.
And so it was Boston 92, Cleveland 91 before 11,383 at the beautiful Richfield Coliseum last night. It wasn't really a one-point game because two Roger Phegley free throws with no time left created the final score.
But it wasn't a three-point game, either. It was a firmly controlled, 10- point game the Celtics managed to turn into a close one, a feat at which they are fast becoming PhDs.
"We had the shovel out and the coffin ready," declared Bill Fitch. "We must have been ready to put this game away five times."
Boston won this game at least three times; there is no disputing that. After succumbing to an early Cavalier blast (8-2), the Celtics came out of a timeout called before the game was two minutes old and hit the Cavs with a 25-11 spurt that gave them a 27-19 lead. This was a very nice two-way display that showcased all Boston's physical skills.
But with Mike Mitchell (22 points) firing away from medium range, the Cavs crept within two at 41-39. Operating without Larry Bird and with Gerry Henderson occupying the off-guard slot, the Celtics ran off 10 unanswered points to assume a 51-39 lead with 2:24 remaining in the half. It was still 10 at 53-43 with 1:07 left, but two turnovers were answered by Cavalier baskets (Kenny Carr, James Silas), and it was an unsatisfying 53-47 at the half.
The accordion nature of this game was in evidence once again in the third quarter, when, after constructing a 58-47 lead a minute and a half into the quarter, the Celtics couldn't sustain their drive and eventually found themselves looking at the wrong end of 71-70 and 73-71 deficits in the final two minutes of the period. The Cavs must be commended for their persistence because they missed six shots while one down with the ball before Bob Wilkerson connected on a jumper to create the 71-70 advantage.
After Mitchell's jumper gave Cleveland the 73-71 lead, Kevin McHale made a bull drive along the baseline to tie it up, and Bird sank a technical foul called when the Cavs were assessed their second delay-of-game violation of the game (Silas tipped the ball away from Bird). The tech was buttressed by a Henderson - what a big man was he on this occasion - jumper and a pair of McHale free throws, sending the Celtics into the last quarter with a 78-73 lead.
The Celtics huffed and puffed one more time, again thanks to Henderson, whose two fast-break jumpers and one superb fast-break assist (to a streaking Rick Robey) boosted the club into an 84-75 lead with 9:43 remaining. And once again the Cavs wouldn't crumble, chipping away and chipping away as the Celtics, who had shot a dazzling 70 percent (14-20) in the first quarter, were in the midst of a three-period drought that would lower their final percentage to 45 percent via 37-percent bombing in the final 36 minutes.
Along the way, there were more chances to make life more placid. At 84-77 Bird missed a three-pointer that the coach felt was ill-advised, but the player thought was warranted. "I knew he'd jerk me if I missed (he was soon replaced by Cedric Maxwell)," said Bird, "but if we can win by it (three- pointers), we can die by it. I'll shoot it nine out of 10 times if they're not going to guard me."
The Celtics didn't do much scoring down the stretch (shooting 7 for 23), but one very big bucket was submitted by Robey, whose dip-in move had James Edwards' head moving toward Akron while his body was pointing toward Cincinnati. That shot made it 92-87 with 2:01 left.
Bird contributed a significant play with 37 seconds left (92-89), when, after missing a drive down the lane, he got the medium-length rebound (before missing a long jumper 17 seconds later). "I guess they (the Cavs) were all standing around waiting for somebody else to get it," Bird said with a shrug.
Cleveland's last chance came following the final Bird (5 for 16) miss. Mitchell's three-pointer with eight seconds left was no good, and the rebound came out deep to Roger Phegley. Maxwell fouled Phegs as time expired, accompanied by, as Fitch put it, "the a capella choir on the bench yelling Foul Him!'
One more thing: Tiny Archibald capped a fine week with a much-needed 16- point (including some big right-back fast breaks when Boston needed them) and eight-assist night. Give him the game ball and make the Celtics 8-1, however rickety this triumph was.