Celtics Finish 63-19
1981-82 Boston Celtics
Mike Newlin viewed The Dunk as a metaphor that explained the game perfectly. "If you want a terse summary of this game," declared the erudite Knicks guard, "say that a vicious dunk by Charles Bradley exemplified a vicious team."
It was the play the Garden crowd had awaited all season, all right. The crowd had been waiting for Charles Bradley to be yards ahead of the pack. What would he do? The answer came with 9:21 remaining in the fourth period of yesterday's season-ending 119-99 dispatching of the Knicks. Gerald Henderson had stolen the ball to spring his backcourt mate, and Bradley responded with a look-out-below, two-hand, tomahawk smash on which he took off from somewhere back in the Quincy Market.
And so a memorable Celtics season concluded with a tribal celebration, a ritualistic display of all-around Boston basketball brilliance that enchanted the daily Garden faithful of 15,320. The 63-19 record now ranks second in Celtics history to the 68-14 log compiled by the 1972-73 club.
The Celtics were in charge from beginning to end, never trailing and never treating the Knicks as if they were anything but punk kid brothers trying to compete with the big boys.
This was true even when a Paul Westphal-inspired thrust pulled New York, which had trailed by as many as 21 (52-31) in the first half, to within four at 73-69 with 2:59 remaining in the third period. In fact, the Knicks would have been better off not coming so close, because all they did was make the Celtics angry, as the ensuing 26-7 spurt over the next 7:03 was to prove.
Boston had this game in hand from the first two possessions. On the first, Danny Ainge, the 11th Celtic player to start a game this season, connected on a turnaround from the lane. On the second, a clever, unselfish pass by Cedric Maxwell sprung Ainge for an unmolested 12-footer from the baseline.
Soon the Celtics were off on a fast-breaking spree enhanced by New York's refusal to get back on defense. Robert Parish, meanwhile, was busy capping a glorious season with the first 13 of his game-high 31 points as Boston moved to a 34-19 one-period lead.
Bill Fitch again employed exhibition-game substitution techniques, using no player for more than 30 minutes. It hardly mattered as his troops placed seven men in double figures. He labeled the 3-2 postclinching week "successful," adding that it was "mission accomplished . . . We're in better shape now, and the team is mentally relaxed. And I know a lot more about next year's team. We took a lot of notes this week."
Red Holzman, meanwhile, didn't have to take any notes, since everyone from Montauk to Morristown knows he has worked his final game as the Knicks' coach.
His sad, sad team played down to its expected level, especially in the opening minutes. It appeared that the ultimate negative, a 5-on-0 Boston fast break, was merely a matter of time. Instead, the best Boston came up with was a 3-on-0 stuff for Kevin McHale in the second half.
The Celtics had a nice workout for themselves, piling up 41 fast-break points, plus 21 more on second shots. Aside from Parish, whose all-around play continually improves, Celtics who particularly distinguished themslves were Rick Robey (14 points to finish a week in which he averaged 13 points a game), Bradley (4 for 5 and a career-high 10 points), Ainge (10 points, 4 assists, 3 steals) and, of course, Larry Bird (15 points, 11 rebounds, 6 assists, 4 steals).
After being embarrassed in the first quarter, the Knicks set themselves up to be victims of an extended showtime in the second half as well. The game- clinching spurt began at 73-69 when Bird fed Maxwell for a layup to key a period-ending 11-5 run completed by a coast-to-coast Bird excursion. Then Boston turned the lights out early in the fourth quarter when Parish hit a turnaround and Bird first ripped the ball away from Larry Demic and then threw a spectacular 60-foot lead pass to a streaking Henderson for two points and an 88-74 lead.
"I like a team that drubs a team when they should get drubbed," declared Newlin. "Boston plays the game right. They deserve to be champions."