Bird Comes Off Bench to Lead C's Past Pistons

Celtics Improve to 45-15
1981-82 Boston Celtics

Is nothing sacred with this team? Now even the coach is disposable.

"I told them at halftime," said Bill Fitch, who had already been ejected by referee Jim Capers, "that they had won without Tiny, they had won without Larry and had even won without Robert. I said, Now if you SOBs can't win without me it'll cost you $25 a man.' "

Not to worry. With K. C. Jones ably running the show, and with the Celtics erasing the memory of a poor first half with an offensive-minded third period (38 points) and a defensive-minded fourth quarter (holding Detroit to three points in one key stretch of six minutes), the Celtics wound up rolling to their eighth consecutive victory, a 111-101 dispatching of the error-prone Pistons.

This fifth straight post-Larry decision was achieved via 61-percent shooting, but in order to pull out the game Boston had to overcome an attack of the self-destructs. Turnovers were a major first-half problem, especially in the opening period when the Celtics had 13 giveaways, which is more turnovers than either the Houston (12) or New York (11) games contained in four periods of play.

And so, despite shooting 13 for 15 from the floor in the first quarter, the Celtics had only a 26-25 lead, a margin that included the surrender of the final seven points of the quarter to the hopped-up Pistons. Detroit then took full advantage of that momentum via a 32-point second quarter, a spurt that gave the home team a 57-46 halftime lead.

Fitch had already been tossed by Capers, and he was, er, ticked off about it, too, since the first of his three techs came as the result of a profanity bellowed by the infamous Leon Bradley, an acerbic Pistons' season ticket holder known to everyone in the NBA as the Red Foxx of Pontiac. Capers thought Fitch had said it, and he gave Bill a T with 4:41 remaining in the half. Seventeen seconds later the two were really at it, and Fitch was ejected. Fitch swears he will not pay a fine that should have gone to Leon Bradley.

Anyway, the Celtics realized at the half that unless they started treating the basketball as if it were a five-year, no-cut contract for half a mil, and unless they began playing some legitimate defense, they wouldn't be getting back in the game.

"We had to come back out and do the things we'd been doing to win the first seven," explained Cedric Maxwell (27, including a mess of free throws down the stretch). "They had been beating us in transition (where the slithery Isiah Thomas had picked up most of his 10 first-half assists). We had to get back on defense, limit them to one shot and start getting the ball inside."

A quick push reduced the deficit to 59-55 before Detroit rebuilt the lead at 11 (70-59). At 70-65, K. C. made a fateful substitution, sending in Danny Ainge, who seems to be in training to become the Andrew Toney of New England. Eleven seconds after entering the game, Ainge was depositing a right-corner three-pointer, the first three of 10 points he would score in a span of under 5 minutes. By the end of the quarter it was 84-80, Boston.

Detroit hung in for a while, four times seizing three-point leads in the final period, the last at 93-90. But that juncture proved to be their Heartbreak Hill. Robert Parish (a smooth 25 on 12-for-15 shooting) started the key offensive surge with a jumper. Gerry Henderson (22) provided the go-ahead basket with 6:10 left, and the Celtics were fired up.

As Detroit tried desperately to power the ball inside, the Celtics packed it in and invited challenges to the defensive prowess of Parish and Kevin McHale, the duo Maxwell calls the "Twin Towers." The Pistons got nowhere. Boston took control, waiting for free throws, while scoring their last 13 points from the line.

"We weren't tough enough, mentally or physically," sighed losing coach Scotty Robertson. "The ballgame was ours, but we didn't D it up when we had to and they did. They kept their poise, which is why they're the world champions."

Apparently, it's no longer a big deal, especially to them. They have learned how to play without the best player in basketball, and without the man who may be the best playmaker. No matter what happens in the next three months, they've all got something to be proud of while they're lying on the beach this summer.

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