Green Moves to 5-1
1981-82 Boston Celtics
He sits there every night - a little-used secret weapon. He is the last line of defense.
Celtic sub center-forward Kevin McHale is turning into the Goose Gossage of basketball. Rest him, stay close, then unleash him at the finish. Woosh. Turnaround jumpers. Blocked shots. Ballgame. The other team goes home mumbling, "Who was that guy?"
That's the way it was at the Capital Centre last night, as the Celtics ground out a 90-84 victory over the once-mighty Washington Bullets. Boston's day-trippers shot 35 percent and fell behind by as much as 17 (51-34) in the first half, before fighting back and finally taking command late in the final quarter.
McHale was the difference. He scored 21 points in 21 minutes, dominated down the stretch, and when it was over, had the audacity to tell Red to "put a couple of cigars in my locker. I haven't had any good ones lately."
The cigars were delivered. Auerbach has to have plenty in stock with a guy like McHale wearing the green.
An argument could be made that the game's key play was the ejection of Boston center Robert Parish with 1:07 left in the third quarter. Parish was bounced for throwing a punch at Washington center Rick Mahorn and coach Bill Fitch was forced to go with Rick Robey at center. That meant Robey and McHale up front in the final quarter which spelled curtains for the Bullets.
Leading, 75-73, in the fourth, Fitch sent McHale in for the first time in the second half. From that moment, the game belonged to the 23 year-old, bag- eyed kid from Hibbing, Minnesota.
First he threw down a pair of turnaround jumpers as Washington rookie Jeff Ruland watched in amazement. Then he raced to the other end of the floor and blocked two (count em, two) shots on the same play. Don Collins, and then Ruland had shots put back in their faces. McHale controlled the second block, (a center named Russell used to do that) went back to the offensive end and converted a Larry Bird (21 points, 13 rebounds lest we forget) pass into a layup. The Celtics led for good, 83-81.
McHale wasn't done. Spencer Haywood (aka Driftwood) replaced Ruland and McHale swished a turnaround jumper over the hapless veteran. Then McHale canned four straight foul shots and the Celtics led, 89-82. With 1:41 remaining, he blocked Frank Johnson's shot for the clincher.
The bottom line: 21 points on six for eight floor shooting and nine for ten foul shooting, three rebounds, three blocks, one steal, ten straight fourth quarter points, 12 of the last 15 Celtic points, and a 90-84 victory.
Post-game probers posed the patented questions about starting and playing time. McHale came back with the patented answers. "I don't want to start," he said. "I don't want to play more. All I want to do is win. I have two of the best forwrds in the league ahead of me. I guess a sub can be as important as a starter in a lot of ways."
McHale also talked about his team's concept of the "hot hand."
"Sometimes you get that feeling that the ball is going to drop," he said. "The guys on this team are really intelligent. They know when to get you the ball."
Fitch added, "we go to the guy that's doing it. And we break the arm of the guy that goes to anybody but the guy who's doing it."
From Robey: "tonight was Kevin's night and that's why we kept going to him. We try to take advantage of their forward guarding McHale."
In six games (five victories). McHale is averaging 23 minutes, 15 points, and seven rebounds. He leads the team with 17 blocks, and he's shooting 60 percent from the floor. Another man, even a modest one, might ask for more playing time.
"We go with what works at the time," McHale insisted. "When we're playing good, I don't expect to play. I bide my time. They say that good comes to those who wait . . . a sub's biggest job is to give the team a lift. I'm not as gifted as Larry or Max (Cedric Maxwell). I just go down low, and try to rebound and block shots."