Celtics Improve to 47-15
1981-82 Boston Celtics
All in all, it wasn't a bad little show.
A record Nets' franchise crowd of 19,367 almost went home in ecstasy. They almost saw their improving team walk off with the victory that would have made their season. But you know what they say about "close" and its relation to horseshoes.
"Almost" wasn't good enough, not when the world champion Boston Celtics respond to losing a 19-point lead by scoring on their final six possessions en route to a 113-109 triumph. The game wasn't decided until Robert Parish hauled in the rebound of an Albert King three-pointer with 18 seconds left, or until the Big Man sank one of two foul shots two seconds later to put the Celtics ahead, 111-107. Two M.L. Carr fouls with seven seconds left (following another missed three- pointer) and a Ray Williams buzzer-beating spread buster created the final score.
But, oh, how the infant joint was jumpin' back at the 2:49 mark of the final period, back when Foots Walker, who had stolen a Parish dribble, stuck in an acrobatic lefthanded driving scoop shot to provide the Nets with a 101-100 advantage, their first lead since 18-17. That basket capped a nice second-half comeback that had its origins in a spectacular run of 16 unanswered
third-period points in the brief span of 3:49, turning a 74-57 Boston lead into a 74-73 state of affairs.
"The problem," Bill Fitch would later explain, "was that we played careless and came up with four no-brainers' in a row. We played better after that, but they smelled the blood and played the Count Dracula role." But the Nets, having come within a point, couldn't get ahead, although they would have three third-period chances at one down with the ball. The Celtics concluded the third period with an 88-82 lead and, after a Mike O'Koren-inspired Nets' run tied the game at 92 with 8:36 left, Boston again spurted, running off six straight points, the last two coming when Danny Ainge picked off a Buck Williams pass and sailed in for a layup, giving the Celtics a six-point lead with 7:01 remaining.
In the next 4:28, however, the Celtics would only score one basket (a Cedric Maxwell layup from an Ainge baseline dish-off). New Jersey kept coming, until the aforementioned Walker go-ahead hoop with 2:49 to play. Fitch called time out, and when play resumed the Celtics immediately directed the action at Maxwell. "That," Fitch explained, "is what the defense gave us. They gave us the guy (Bird) to make the pass, and they gave us the board crashers."
Max responded like a thoroughbred, or like the reigning playoff MVP, if you will. First he posted King for a 10-foot baseline facial. When Parish, a fourth-quarter backboard terror, pulled down a Williams corner miss, the Celtics went to Max again, and the Rubber Man drew a foul on a right-to-left drive, sinking one of two for a 103-101 lead. The crowd erupted as Williams tied the game on a you-gotta-be-kidding lefty baseline drive, but 15 seconds later Maxwell replied with his own beauty, a twisting, two-handed scoop (degree of difficulty: 2.1) that wound up as a three-point play and a 106-103 lead with 1:18 left.
The point swapping continued (Williams free throws and King jumper vs. a Parish short drive on a Bird feed), until Parish missed a jumper at 108-107 and Bird drew a loose ball foul with 24 seconds left on the rebound. Larry stepped up and dropped both shots in for a three-point lead. "Larry made a great play," said Nets' coach Larry Brown. "He rode our guy out as soon as the shot was taken. That's a big play."
Brown's kids looked as if they would be devoured once the Celtics changed an early 16-9 Jersey lead into a 49-30 Boston advantage via a spectacular 40-14 run that included a little 10-for-10 spurt of Mr. Parish. It was 67-53 at the half, and then 74-57 before the Nets got the early pizzazz back. It may have been a little too much of a Chiller Theatre for Fitch's taste, but the Nets' comeback had a lot of side effects. It sold tickets, it pumped up the home am and it gave the fans a chance to see the world champeens play with grace under pressure. That adds up to a good night out, doesn't it?