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7.09.2009

Bird Ends Pacers Comeback

1981-82 Boston Celtics

It's an NBA axiom that fans of superior teams must consume the spinach games of the regular season in order to enjoy the ice cream of the playoffs. Last night's 112-103 Celtics ' triumph over the Indiana Pacers was one such meal.

Never without control of the game in the final 3 1/2 quarters, but never of a mind to blow out the somewhat downtrodden (they've now dropped 11 of the last 14 games) visitors, the Celtics got out to a 14-point lead with 2 1/2 minutes remaining in the half and then nursed the advantage to the wire.

The Pacers threatened on the scoreboard in the final quarter, creeping to within four on three occasions and within five (103-98) with the ball at the 4:05 mark. But when things got hairy the Celtics went to Plan A, which is to direct the ball to Larry Bird.

It would be less monotonous to report that Bird was again a hero, but to state otherwise would be to indulge in a falsehood. Bird returned to this game with 4:48 left (99-95) and calmly scored the next eight Boston points, four on free throws and four on a pair of downtown swishers, the second of which left the Celtics comfortably ahead at 105-98 with 3:26 remaining.

Bird finished with 32 points, 13 rebounds and 5 assists. Other big stat men for Boston were Kevin McHale, with 25 points and 10 rebounds, and Tiny Archibald, who had 15 assists, 9 coming in the opening quarter, when Boston first established who was boss in this game.

It was McHale who had held off the Pacers earlier in the quarter, when they first came within four at 95-91. First the Gangly One stuck in a third- chance follow-up. Next he took a nice penetration feed from M.L. Carr and dropped in a jumper.

Boston won this game on the glass, picking up 21 second half points on second shots, and 29 in all. McHale and Bird were prime destroyers, picking up 14 second-chance points between them.

Serenity might very well be defined as being able to rest Bird for the final 6:32 of the half and have nothing happen to your lead.

That's what happened in the second quarter as the Celtics protected an eight-point lead (45-37) at the time of Bird's departure well enough to head into the locker room in possession of a nine-point advantage at 59-50.

Actually, the quintet of Rick Robey, McHale, Cedric Maxwell, Gerry Henderson and Carr was able to boost the lead up as high as 14 (55-41, with 2:39 remaining) before falling back. The truth is that at no time in the final 18 minutes of the half did the Celtics appear to be in trouble. It can be argued that there was a safer feeling surrounding this particular nine-point lead than there was surrounding the 18-point lead they had in New York the night before.

Indiana was far from the inspired club they usually are when these clubs meet in the Market Square Arena. Jack McKinney's team did stay with the Celtics through an eighth tie at 16-all as both clubs did some torrid early shooting. But with Bird, a reluctant early shooter (he didn't put one up until everybody else had scored), beginning to heat up, Boston broke out to a pair of 11-point first-quarter leads, the second one at 32-21 with 20 seconds left.

The key man in the first period was Archibald, who piled up an amazing total of nine assists in the quarter. The little guy was throwing seeds through traffic, and he was finding post-up men in the proper position en route to his lofty assist total.

Bird, who missed his first two shots, sank his last five to lead all first-quarter scorers with 10.

The Celtics pulled something of an accordion routine in the second quarter, letting the air in and out of the lead. The had been running well in the first quarter (10 of their first 14 via fast breaks), but in period two they were doing more with their set-up offense. Bird was busy rifling passes to the likes of McHale, retiring in favor of Maxwell with 12 points, five rebounds and four assists, all the latter in the second period.

Maxwell had come in for the first time in five games back in the first quarter, and he appeared to be the same old squirmer underneath, scoring six quick points.

The Pacers were experiencing difficulty holding onto the basketball, and the Celtics were making them pay, scoring on each of the first nine Indy turnovers.

After accumulating the big lead, the Celtics got a little sloppy, yielding a couple of easy baskets via turnovers. They still had a chance to go out leading by 13, but McHale threw the ball away looking for a Charles Bradley lob underneath with 16 seconds to go, and Johnny Davis sank a jumper with one second left to create the halftime spread of nine.

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