1983-84 Boston Celtics
Celtics 140, Nuggets 124
Maybe this is their year. On a night when a former Celtics tryout was elected mayor of Boston, the Green Team won its ninth straight, beating Denver's pinball wizards, 140-124, before 13,908 at McNichols Sports Arena. The Celtics own basketball's best record, haven't lost in 19 days and can match the fabled franchise's best start (11-1 in 1959) with a victory in Utah tonight and another on Friday in the Garden against the Knicks.
"I think the encouraging thing is that we're playing well, but we're still not playing up to our potential," said Kevin McHale, who destroyed the McNuggets with 24 points (10 of 13 from the floor) in 26 minutes. Boston was able to beat a good team at its own game. The Nuggets (averaging 125.7 points a game) try to exploit the thin Denver atmosphere by running visitors off the floor, but the Celts were equal to the task. Larry Bird had a triple-double (28 points, 11 rebounds, 10 assists), Robert Parish (18 points, 13 rebounds) continually beat Dan Issel down the court and coach K. C. Jones adroitly employed his multiheaded backcourt monster, keeping fresh troops on the floor to deal with Denver's track team.
"You had two running teams on the floor," noted Jones. "The thin air here has its effect and I had to keep running people in and out, but we were able to hang tight, and we had some success inside." The Celtics trailed only once (32-31 late in the first quarter), and led by 39-34 after one period, 71-68 at the half and 106-96 after three quarters. Boston temporarily opened it up early in the fourth when McHale and Danny Ainge paced a 14-6 run. Ainge scored four points on one break, making a layup as he ws fouled and convert-ing two free throws (one a technical on Denver coach Doug Moe). Then Parish rebounded an Issel miss and Quinn Buckner drove for two to make it 120-102 with 8:12 left.
"I didn't think we had a chance at that point, but it turned out we did," said Moe. Led by the remarkable Kiki Vandeweghe (38 points), Denver roared back from the 18-point deficit with 12 straight points. Vandeweghe hit two three- pointers and scored the first 10 points of a dirty dozen that cut it to 120-114 with 5:49 left. Jones called time. After the pause, Denver pulled to within five (122-117) before the Celts blew it open for keeps with a 10-0 run to make it 131-117 with 3:19 left.
"We started to wonder what was going on when they came back like that," said McHale. "But then Larry hit a turnaround and Robert scored on an inside move and we started to get loose again." Bird's fallaway jumper started the final surge, but the most poetic motion of the spurt was a Bird fast-break layup off a perfect bounce pass from Gerald Henderson. Moe, who may yet be suspended for pouring water on official Tommie Wood Saturday, blamed the loss on bad calls and bad breaks, but was quick to credit Celtics forward Cedric Maxwell. "In the beginning of the second half, they went to him and he killed us," said Moe.
Maxwell finished with 14 points and seven rebounds. He also did a credible job on the defending league scoring champ, holding Alex English to 19 points. The first half was typical of most Denver first halfs. The running and gunning never stopped, and when it was over, Boston held a 71-68 lead. Seventy-one points might sound like a lot, but the Celtics scored 85 in the first half here last year. The Celtics hit 67 (16 of 24) percent of their shots in the first period, 59 percent (55-93) for the night. Boston also made 30 of 33 free throws and outrebounded the home team, 47-45. "We played against a great team that had a great game," admitted Moe. "They're very good and they seemed to be making every shot out there."