Celtics Improve to 34-11
1981-82 Boston Celtics
It was a game for the fans, oh, definitely yes, but also one for the boy in all of us. Call it one night of Eastern League basketball, Continental League basketball, Rucker League basketball or even Outlaw League basketball, but it was also basketball in a league by itself. Just beautiful.
Got your pocket calculators handy? Boston won this free-for-all, 145-144, in a shootout that saw Tiny Archibald give out an awesome 23 assists; the Celtics score 50 points in the first quarter; Denver score 44 in the second; and Robert Parish score 18 in the third, and then the final two of the game with three seconds left on an 18-foot turnaround from the top of the key after hesitating for two or three seconds, looking to pass.
Still have that calculator? Well, Parish (33 points) not only stuck 15 of 20 shots from the field; not only buried nine of 11 in the third period alone; not only pulled down 12 rebounds, but also blocked five shots, including the final runner by the Nuggets' Ken Higgs with a second left when he switched off his man to make the block.
"I'll tell you what this one was like," said the Celtics' M. L. Carr. "It was like being with the boys in the park: one guy goes down and scores and you feel you've got to bring it right back and get two on him."
Or, as Denver coach Doug Moe put it, "It was a fun game to watch."
Indeed. The Nuggets went through the entire first quarter without the 24- second clock ever reaching single digits. Only twice did they need more than 10 seconds to get off a shot - and the spirit was catching. It didn't take long for the Celtics to press the pedal to the metal.
For the record, the Celtics had a 23-point lead at the end of the first quarter, but lost that by midway through the fourth and fell behind, 134-129, with 5:15 left with a fast-break layup by Kiki Vandeweghe (40 points on your basic 15-of-22 from the field).
But the Celtics made only two mistakes in the final five minutes ("If we make any more than that," said Boston coach Bill Fitch, "they win.") and took a 5-point lead of their own (143-138) with 1:28 left on the second of two consecutive jumpers from the key by Larry Bird (34 points).
But Higgs buried two free throws, Denver's Alex English (32 points for the game but nigh-unstoppable in the final minutes) banged in a 10-foot runner with 49 seconds left, closing the lead to 143-142. Bird then missed an open 18-footer from the right corner but stood firm at the other end and took the key charging foul on Dan Issel with 31 ticks on the clock.
But Parish was called for an illegal block with 21 seconds to play, the Nuggets had the ball and cleared out the right for Vandeweghe to do his deed - one-on-one with Bird.
("I guarded them both in the last quarter, English and Vandeweghe," said Cedric Maxwell. "It didn't make much difference; they were unstoppable.")
Vandeweghe bounced once, bounced twice and let loose a 12-footer with 11 seconds left that dropped in for a 144-143 lead.
After the obligatory timeout, the inbounds pass came to Parish "but Parish wasn't one of the first options," said Fitch. "He got the ball after a couple of picks and once they made the switch, he had the presence of mind not to try and force it inside."
Instead, Parish looked right, looked left, looked confused but finaly looked toward the basket with three seconds left and unleashed yet another of his fallaway, arching rainbows from the top of the key. Suuhhwisshh, and "there was no doubt about it," said Fitch. "Robert was a one-man band out there tonight."
There was more. Denver bypassed both English and Vandeweghe on its final inbounds pass "because we thought the Celtics wouldn't bother with Higgs and he can shoot it," said Moe. "We got him the ball open, but Parish switched out on him (along the left baseline) and made a great play."
The first quarter was played in the fast lane. Oh, sure, Denver turned the ball over four times in the first minute, the two teams remarkably scored four baskets within 21 seconds (no steals, no foul shots, endline to endline), averaged five shots a minute and Boston tallied 50 points, the second-highest for the Celtics in a quarter in history.
But Boston's 50-27 lead dissipated under a 44-point onslaught by the Nuggets in the second period. "We let them back in," said Fitch, "and once we did, there was no stopping them."
There seemed to be no answer to Vandeweghe, who had 27 points in the first half.
Still in all, the halftime score was an awesome 85-71 for the Celtics, 117-110 after three when the real fun began.
Moe made a case for the Nuggets: "People don't realize the pace we keep. These guys put forth an unbelievable effort every night and it goes unappreciated by most fans. If we're not the most exciting team in the league, then I don't know who is."
And if last night wasn't the most fun game of the season, you weren't at the Garden