Celtics Drop to 37-15
1981-82 Boston Celtics
In the course of the Big 82, there are embarrassing victories that are total products of circumstance, and there are noble defeats. This game was one of the latter.
Trailing by a 63-43 halftime score, and in a position to fold the mental tents and start thinking about returning to Home, Sweet Home, the Boston Celtics put on a stirring second-half display, twice taking the lead in the final five minutes before succumbing by a 103-100 score to the SuperSonics.
Not until Danny Ainge's desperation 40-foot runner popped out of the basket at the buzzer could the mammoth Kingdome gathering of 27,199 relax in this one. Two Gus Williams free throws with three seconds left had created the three-point spread, and all the Celtics had left was a 20-second timeout which would leave them 94 feet away from the basket. But Ainge's shot was close enough to give Lenny Wilkens one of those sinking stomach feelings before it came back out.
Williams had singlehandedly saved the Sonics from defeat, scoring 10 third-period points as Boston chopped 12 points from the halftime deficit, then grabbing the offensive rebound of a Jack Sikma three-point miss with 1:33 left (97-96, Seattle) and sinking two foul shots when fouled by Gerry Henderson 11 seconds later. Moreover, Williams performed his offensive heroics in a virtual vacuum, constantly creating improbable baskets out of isolation situations after the aroused Boston defense had closed down other Seattle options.
The Celtics were a complete Jekyl-Hyde in this one, stinking up the joint in the first half while playing exemplary team basketball in the second.
"In the first half," said Bill Fitch, "we were almost as bad as you can be fundamentally in terms of defense, thinking and shooting - there's your poise on the road. In the second half, we came out with the type of attitude you need in that situation, and we came within one box out (the aforementioned Williams offensive rebound) of winning the game."
The remarkable aspect of Boston's superb second half comeback was that it was accomplished by the five starters, period. Not until Ainge came in for the three-point attempt with three seconds left did Fitch go to his bench during the second half.
"Any time the airplane is going down, or the ship is sinking, or anything unusual is happening, there's no book for it," Fitch explained. "You take a gut check and go with your instincts. If someone were completely winded, or were really screwing up, or the offense was out of synch, I might have substituted. But nothing cropped up until the final three seconds. And nobody that didn't play will ever have much to say about it, because they had obviously dedicated themselves to being cheerleaders in the second half."
And so the quintet of Robert Parish (34 points, 13 assists), Larry Bird (a spectacular 22 points, 12 rebounds and 14 assists), Cedric Maxwell, Chris Ford and Gerry Henderson (24 points, 8 assists) went to work after the intermission, clamping on some serious defense and passing the ball so well at the other end that 21 of Boston's first 23 second-half field goals would carry an assist.
The offensive focal points were Bird, who had 11 of his assists in the second half, and Parish, who just kept making those arching turnarounds, sweeping hooks and penetration layups. It was Parish who had hit two key baskets after Seattle went ahead by a 99-96 score, the first being an in-yo'- face jumper over towering James Donaldson, and the second a powerhouse right-to-left drive culminating in a slam dunk.
The smasher, coming with 39 seconds left, gave Boston a 100-99 lead, its first since 92-91 and only its second of the game. But Seattle responded with 21 seconds left when Sikma drew a dubious foul on Parish and sank two foul shots to restore the Sonics' lead.
Boston's next possession was a mess, with Bird first having a pivot pass blocked and then throwing up a flat 15-footer over two people. The Sonics got the rebound, and Henderson had to foul Gus. The Bald One swished both for points 33 and 34 in a tremendous afternoon's work.
Seattle had stomped all over the sloppy, unthinking visitors in the first half, connecting on 15 of 19 first-period shots en route to a 39-24 lead. Each feeble Boston encroachment was answered by the Sonics in period two, until a Fred Brown leaner with 45 seconds left gave the home team its biggest lead, a 63-42 advantage.
What the Celtics did in the second half was play with pride and intelligence. The second half effort, in fact, may have given this team a rebirth. Believe it when you're told that winning isn't always everthing, not over the course of a six-month season. The team returning to Boston is better than the one that left, and that's the issue now.