1983-84 Boston Celtics
Celtics 129, Clippers 122
If the pieces fall together just right, they should finally be able to join the elite of the NBA's Pacific Division. With or without Bill Walton, the San Diego Clippers have a blend of talent capable of running with the very best around. But they still must learn to pay the price of excellence that enabled the Celtics to break away in the fourth quarter and roll to their sixth straight victory, 129-122, last night before another sellout crowd at the Garden.
The Clippers got a 37-point night from second-year man Terry Cummings. But they found out a one-man show could not overcome the superior depth of the Celtics, as Kevin McHale (27 points) and Larry Bird (25) led a stampede of players in double figures. Gerry Henderson had 18 points to go along with Robert Parish's 16 and Cedric Maxwell's 15. San Diego scrapped and fought against the Celtics for three quarters to trail by only six points, 96-90. But at the start of the fourth period, the Celtics put on a defensive blitz, spearheaded by Quinn Buckner and Maxwell, and the Clippers never recovered from a 14-4 run that put them behind by 16 points.
Only a fourth-quarter lapse by Boston, as San Diego forced turnovers and cut the lead to five points (125-120), made the final score close. "That's the way it is with a club like Boston," said San Diego coach Jim Lynam. "Their big men keep coming after you time after time. Their big men run the court consistently and wear you down by paying the price. I'll bet Robert Parish ran the floor 25 times and only got the ball once. But all their big men run and their guards always seem to look for them." The fourth-quarter spurt started with two Buckner baskets. After a layup by Bird, Maxwell had a run of six points, four on layups. No one Celtic seemed to rattle the Clippers. But everyone seemed to be a part of the pressure defense that can be devasting.
"It starts with the guards," said Bird. "They put on the pressure to us (forwards), and we try to force whoever has the ball down to Robert. When we can do that, it's easy, because he's so tough inside. All we have to do is rebound. "We're playing good defense right now. But we could be better. We still make too many turnovers. We get up by 14-16 points and then let down. What we'd like to do is get up by 20-25 points and then bury a team."
The Clippers, sans Walton - who is not playing on consecutive nights and sat on the bench in street clothes - had no intention of being buried by the Celtics. In fact, San Diego led in the first period by six points twice, 14-8 and 26-20, before trailing at the quarter, 37-31. It seemed a good sign when McHale came off the bench and went on a 12- point binge that kept the Celtics ahead early in the second period. But backup center Jerome Whitehead was even tougher to defend than the suddenly tenacious James Donaldson, who replaced Walton as the starter.
Whitehead scored 14 of his 16 points in the second period. San Diego tied the game at 57-57 and pulled to within two points at 65-63 before Parish sank two free throws to give Boston a 67-63. Play got a little meaner in the third period, as substitute officials Tommy Wood and Mike Krom had to blow their whistles often to prevent bloodshed. San Diego fell behind by nine at 86-77, but pulled to within 96-90 after three quarters.
But after that, the Celtics' defense made the outcome academic. It didn't hurt their cause that they shot 45 free throws and sank 36, compared to 18 of 24 for San Diego. But that's another price teams pay when they come to the Garden. "When you play good defense and have people inside who can take advantage of the other team," said Celtics coach K.C. Jones, "either you do it or you stay home. We got the job done tonight, but I'm impressed with San Diego. They're a new club and they run the fast break better than most teams in the league right now."