Celtics Improve to 50-15
1981-82 Boston Celtics
The truest way to begin the story of the Celtics' 113-109 victory over Atlanta at the Garden is to observe that green had all the luck on St. Patrick's night. The Celtics benefitted from crucial calls near the finish to neutralize a determined 17-3 run by the Hawks and enable Boston to escape with its 13th consecutive victory.
Hawks coach Kevin Loughery, who had offered a short man's version of Tommy Heinsohn during the game with his animated protests of the officating, imitated Cyrus Vance with his diplomacy after finally letting the press in the Atlanta dressing room following the game.
"I didn't say that; please don't put words in my mouth," he corrected a reporter who asked him to comment on the unarmed robbery just witnessed. "We came almost all the way back but couldn't overcome those calls at the end," he allowed. Loughery referred to a achingly bad charging call on John Drew as he was about to lay in a basket that would have narrowed Boston's margin to two, followed by a rare delay of game technical against the Hawks, topped off by an unseen loose ball call against Drew amidst a mass of arms that let Larry Bird hit two foul shots for a seven-point lead.
Throw in an interrupted drive to the basket by Eddie Johnson that went unpunished, and you've got the anatomy of a close Celtics victory. But it was more than those calls by officials Wally Rooney and Blaine Reichelt. Although Atlanta outfouled Boston, 27-22, whenever there was an either-way call, it invariably went against the Hawks.
The final three minutes were a drag for any of the faithful anxious to depart and quench a thirst on St. Patty's night. They required 17 minutes to play, slowed by argued foul calls, minor injuries and the inevitable rash of strategic timeouts.
Loughery eventually got around to lauding the NBA's defending champions. "They're so deep . . . when maybe the best player in the league (Bird) willingly becomes a sixth man, that tell's you about his character . . . they get all those closeup baskets
with that front line."
Of Boston's first nine baskets last night, six were on layups and three others were on shots within eight feet. Among the Hawks' first eight baskets, seven were on perimeter shots. Yet the Hawks trailed by only a basket at halftime (63-61), and considering they enjoyed three days of rest entering the game while the Celtics were playing for the third time in four night, a tussle seemed in order.
But Boston's habit of dissolving close games quickly in the third quarter occurred once more. Bird hit three baskets within a minute, and 5:15 into the period the Celtics led, 79-67. When Boston took an 87-72 edge three minutes later, school almost seemed out - but not against the tenacious Hawks.
"We hang tough," Loughery would utter a truth later. The Celtics' margin was reduced to 13 (93-80) after three quarters, and after expanding back to 16 (98-82), the visitors began the long climb back with 10 minutes to play. Bird, who had entered eight minutes into the game and played 24 of the next 28 minutes, was rushed back to action. He scored only two foul shots to the finish, but rebounded and helped stabilize the shaky offense to the wire.
Irish Kevin McHale was the appropriate overall hero, leading both teams with 25 points and snaring 10 boards. Robert Parish had a quiet 15 points but was loud on defense with 15 rebounds and a Celtic-record 9 blocked shots. San Antonio will be in town tomorrow night leading into a big game in Philly Sunday afternoon, followed by 15 games over the final 25 days of the season. Will Fitch give more rest to key players?
"Our goal is to win our division. You don't put a thoroughbred in a race and speed him and slow down in a race you intend to win," he replied by way of analogy.