Green Improves to 36-13
1981-82 Boston Celtics
Where do you start on this one? With M. L. Carr's invaluable two-way second-half contribution? With Tiny Archibald's first-half keep-'em-floating offensive play? With Robert Parish's aggressive 22-point, 14-rebound triumph over Kareem Abdul-Jabbar? Or perhaps with Cedric Maxwell's most significant performance of the season, a 27-point, 11-rebound gem that evoked memories of his awesome Game 5 show in last year's championship series with Houston? Any of these items would provide a valid reference point, but Kevin McHale thought the key to victory was something less tangible.
"I realize this is your basic cliche explanation," McHale declared, "but the fact is that we wanted it worse. When we came back for the timeouts, people were saying, C'mon, we're not going to lose this game.' That's all there was to it."
Whatever the motivational gap, this much is clear: The Celtics outplayed Los Angeles down the stretch yesterday afternoon, earning a 108-103 decision that served the dual purpose of keeping the Celtics in first place back East and keeping the Lakers from taking over first place out here.
What the sellout Forum crowd of 17,505 - plus the CBS television audience - witnessed was a high-level NBA confrontation featuring very physical team defense, solid board work and true offensive professionalism, regrettably marred by the game-long officiating improprieties of Hugh Evans and Bill Saar, who are both usually better than they were yesterday.
In a very real sense, the game never got started until the midway point of the final period. But when it did, the Celtics' quintet of McHale, Larry Bird, Maxwell, Gerry Henderson and Carr assumed command.
LA, which had led for all but two minutes of periods two, three and the first half of four, was still ahead as late as 92-91 with 4:48 remaining. The Lakers' go-ahead basket had been provided by Jamaal Wilkes on an acrobatic rebound follow-up. But the Celtics answered with six straight points and would never again be headed.
The sequence began when Bird (nine assists) fed Henderson in the lane for a jumper. Wilkes (25 points) almost dropped in a dexterious baseline drive, but the ball refused to drop and the Celtics took advantage when Maxwell hit a whirling jump hook on the transition for a three-point (95-92) lead. Abdul- Jabbar was then assessed a loose-ball foul on a Michael Cooper in-and- outer, leading to a pair of clutch free throws by McHale.
High on the list of reasons the Celtics were able to hang on in this game was luck. After Maxwell had taken a spectacular Carr penetra-tion feed for a patented hanging three-point play to make it 102-96 with 2:06 left, Wilkes responded with a corner jumper. But the Celtics got those two right back with 1:37 remaining when Kareem lost control of a defensive rebound and accidentally diverted the ball into Boston's basket.
The next break, and a very vital one, came with 19 seconds to play. LA had launched a final comeback, with a Magic Johnson free throw with 32 seconds left pulling the Lakers to within one at 104-103. Boston ran a play for Bird (again shackled by the willowy Cooper), who started in a left-to-right direction. There was contact with Cooper, after which Bird threw the ball up well after the whistle. The ball went in, and the LA crowd erupted when Saar signaled the basket good. This may have been carrying the concept of "continuation" to the extreme. Bird made the free throw, and when Carr stole the inbounds pass, the victory was insured.
The victory was a tribute to Boston's mental toughness, as well as a growing LA passivity that has now resulted in three straight losses overall, plus three straight Forum setbacks. LA had forced some Boston turnovers to overcome an early 18-9 deficit, assuming apparent control of the game for the next 2 1/2 periods. But the biggest LA margin was eight (43-35), and the largest LA second-half advantage was seven (59-52). Boston was always able to keep Showtime from getting started.
The X factor was Carr, who wound up contributing nine points, three rebounds, the aforementioned key assist to Maxwell and his usual overall brand of hustling defensive play. This augmented the vigorous Maxwell display (six offensive rebounds), a showing so forceful that Wilkes said, "Maxwell delivered today; he was the key."
Maybe he was, and maybe he wasn't, but Maxwell's sudden revival (58 points, 18 rebounds, 22-for-31 shooting) in the past two games has picked up the team. His own enthusiasm seems to have been restored. "Max was even calling his own play in the huddle," said McHale.
Well, there it is, a revenge victory over LA, a 2-1 road start and another couple of days in first place. "Back on the bandwagon, everybody!" shouted Chris Ford as they entered the locker room. Whatever you say, men.