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7.09.2009

McHale Starts, Stars in Win

Green Improves to 30-9
1981-82 Boston Celtics

The more things change with the Celtics, it seems, the more they stay the same. It is hard to imagine a team that could keep both Cedric Maxwell and Kevin McHale on the bench . . . unless the other forward happens to be a guy like Larry Bird.

With another franchise, brilliant play by a second-year player in a relief role would conjure up notions of a possible lineup change. McHale got 25 points and 10 rebounds in the Celtics ' 112-103 victory over Indiana last night before 15,320 at the Garden. It was his fourth straight start, and McHale has played well in each of them.

But the Celtics always have a way of keeping things in perspective. Ask Maxwell. He'll tell you.

"I think every player likes to start," said Maxwell, who put in 17 minutes in his first action in almost a week. "But with the Celtics, it's been more than an honor than anything else.

"Starting isn't as important as the minutes you play. Both Kevin and I know that Larry is going to be on the floor for most of the game. So we share the minutes between us, and it has worked out very well. I have been starting but I'm also still hurting. The way Kevin is playing right now, he deserves to start. I'm happy about it, because it will enable me to come back slowly and allow the coach to pick the spots where I should be used. While I want to play in every game now, it's more important that I be ready to play in the playoffs."

McHale hit 11 of 15 shots and had 10 rebounds. Six of those rebounds came off the offensive board, where he excels. Is starting important to him?

"Not really," he said. "I know I'm out there because Max is hurt . . . I'm sure he's going to be back starting as soon as he's 100 percent healthy. I'm not out there myself. We're a team. That's why there are 12 guys on it. When a guy like Max goes down, it's up to one of us to pick up for him. That's how it should be for everybody. If somebody falls, no matter where he plays, somebody else picks him up.

"Max and I are similar in that we both play strong inside games. I see that as a plus, because a team can defense for it, but can't play both of us alike. Our job is still the same in that we're both inside players, and we help out for Larry, Robert Parish, Chris Ford and Tiny Archibald. But he is so quick inside, he's very difficult to stop.

"I still like to shoot the jump shot as I did in college. But I also enjoy posting up guys and working inside. No doubt about it, I'm having fun right now. With the increased minutes, I'm gaining my confidence in the things I can do. I've got a little better shooting touch, but then the other guys make it easier for me by getting the ball to me in a good spot on the floor . . . "

If there is a difference in the Celtics in just one season, it has to be that they are deeper and more versatile. They are still the Celtics of Larry Bird, who continued his amazing streak with 32 points, 13 rebounds, 5 assists, a steal and a blocked shot. They are the Celtics of Tiny Archibald, whose 16 assists once again showed the value of an All-Star field general over the course of a long season.

But when you look to why the Celtics are winning night after night, it boils down to the fact they have the talent at the key positions to pick up the slack and win close games. What Maxwell does with deft moves, McHale does with power and strength. McHale's work on the offensive boards alone might have made the difference last night.

"I see the whole situation as a plus," said coach Bill Fitch. "It is a long season and you want to get as many people ready as possible. You'd like to play a lot of combinations if possible so that everybody is involved in different situations.

"Who plays on any night depends entirely on which team we're playing. If we want to come out in a track meet, maybe we'll play it one way. If we need power and rebounding, maybe we'll do it another. Kevin is getting more minutesnow because Max is hurt. I'd like to see that continue and maybe less minutes for Bird as the season goes on. It all depends, and I'm not just talking about the forwards. We've got a lot of ways we can go in all the positions."

Fitch said his club didn't play a pretty game. But it pulled together in the final three minutes and won. Bird came off the bench and scored 10 of the last 12 points.

"I thought we played well," said Indiana coach Jack McKinney. "But the thing we lacked was blocking out. We let Boston get second, third and fourth rebounds. That's what hurt us tonight. It really doesn't matter if McHale or Maxwell starts. McHale played well. Maxwell looked as if he hadn't been out at all.

"The big difference in the game, however, was the way that Bird played down the stretch. He plays so well that he hurts you every trip up the floor. If it's not his shooting, it's his passing or rebounding. You never know what Bird will do to contribute."

The Celtics had only a 99-95 lead when Bird and Archibald returned to the game with 4:38 left. Bird took over immediately, hitting two free throws and then popping in a 20-footer for a 103-96 lead. When Bird hit a turnaround in the key at 2:49 for a 107-100 lead, the crowd began to pack up and go home. Former Celtic Billy Knight tried to rally the Indiana troops and did wind up with 20 points for the Pacers. But his show was nothing compared to the one put on by Bird.

"I've had periods where I've shot well before," said Bird. "But I haven't been quite as good as I've been in this streak."

The Celtics are 30-9 and 18-2 at home. They haven't been playing better than that lately, either.

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