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10.14.2008

Holy Moses--Celtics Lose at Home

Rockets Snap Celts' Win-Streak
1981-82 Boston Celtics

A 21 point, 13-rebound performance by Cedric Maxwell? That's not news. Two more blocked shots by Kevin McHale? That's not news. An eight-game winning streak against all the mediocrity the NBA has to offer? That's not news.

But a 106-104 Boston Celtic loss at home against the Houston Rockets? Now that's news.

"There's no doubt about it," said Maxwell, one of Boston's few bright spots in last night's loss to the Western Conference champs. "A lot of teams in this league play 82 games, but any time this team loses, us being the World Champions, it is news."

The Celtics know, folks. They know the New England mind is expecting something like 72-10 or at least a mark which will tie the Philadelphia 76ers' all-time record season of 69-13 in 1967. Every weary team in this often-weary league is entitled to an off night once a week - except the guys in green.

"It is a big deal for us to lose," said McHale. "We're not accustomed to it and we don't like it."

They especially dislike blowing a 15-point third quarter (64-49) lead, and watching the infinitely loathsome duo of Moses Malone (now about those four guys from Petersburg, Virginia . . .) and Elvin Hayes score at will on power moves and turnaround jumpers in the second half. Malone finished with 37 (28 in the second half) and Hayes added 18, including the key bucket which put Houston ahead, 104-100 with 34 seconds left.

"Elvin gives them a whole new dimension," said Rick Robey, who had 13 points and five fouls in a 26-minute stint which looked like an NFL-Today highlights film. "Now they can post Moses low on one side and put Elvin on the other. You can't help out against them like you used to be able to."

Sixteen Boston turnovers contributed to the Celtics's first defeat since Halloween, as did poor shooting nights from Larry Bird (6-15) and McHale (4-12).

"We shot a poor percentage (7-18, .388) in that third quarter," said Boston coach Bill Fitch. "We let em back in and from that point, they were better than we were . . . tonight. But this team has to be able to win some games when Larry misses two shots in a row. We win as a team and we lose as a team. We all take some share of the credit for this one."

It was 31-31 after a quarter, but the Celtics outscored Houston, 26-16 in the second period and took a 10-point lead into the locker room at the half.

Bird and center Robert Parish (a disappointing 10 points in 21 minutes) each picked up his fourth foul midway through the third period but the Celtics were able to hang on and lead, 79-70 after three.

Houston coach Del Harris got a lot of mileage from a pair of veteran guards in the final quarter. Mike Dunleavy and Calvin Murphy picked up the tempo and Houston finally took the lead, 88-86, when Murphy hit an 18-foot jumper with 6:24 left. Malone and Hayes did the rest and the Celtics were unable to shift into their late-game overdrive offense. "There isn't an on-off button," said Roby. "It was just a matter of which team was able to capitalize on the breaks."

"We had a chance to blow them out and we didn't do it," added Maxwell. "But they have a right to be proud. Not very many teams are going beat us when they play here."

To his credit, Bird refused to dwell on his celebrated and fabricated verbal volleyball match with Malone. From the sight of various T-shirts and homemade signs, you would have thought a fertilizer convention was in town, but Bird wouldn't take the bait. "I respect Moses and I respect their team," said Bird. "But all that stuff Moses and me is just because of you guys and the headlines you write."

Word reached the Celtics locker room that the Houston players were talking about the "playoff" atmosphere, but the Green Wave shrugged it off. Robey said it would have been a lot more physical (hard to believe) if it had been a playoff game, but seemed flattered that a regular season loss in November was causing such an uproar.

"I guess it is a big deal when we lose and we like it that way," said the 6-10 center. "Sure, it's hard on us, but we want people to expect us to win every night."

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