June 7, 1986
The Celtics are being destroyed on the boards. Houston has established territorial rights in the air space surrounding the basket, the result being that the Celtics' big people have been made to look either old or physically inferior in Games 4 and 5. Seeing the Rockets get three, four or even five shots in one possession is nothing less than a shock, especially considering that this is a Celtics team that went through one stretch of 28 games during the regular season in which it either outrebounded its opponent or battled to a tie.
The Celtics won Game 4 despite surrendering 25 offensive rebounds to the Rockets. Boston won the game by shooting 58 percent from the floor, by having Larry Bird sink a three-pointer on just about the only possession all night when he wasn't wearing either Rodney McCray or Robert Reid, and by virtue of one wonderful play by Bill Walton. In the whole scheme of things, their margin of error in that game was about 1 percent.
The margin disappeared Thursday night, when the Rockets again treated the Celtics with contempt on the glass as they helped themselves to 23 offensive rebounds. These extra shots were particularly damaging in the first half, when the game was still something of a game. The Rockets accumulated 14 points on second shots to Boston's two in the first half, which ended with Houston in front by 11.
Should this total board dominance continue, it won't matter if they play Games 6 and 7 in the Garden, at Hellenic College or on the outdoor court at the Fens. The Celtics simply cannot surrender that many second shots and survive.
What is going on? Are the Rockets just too young and strong for the older Celtics? Is Jim Petersen (13 offensive rebounds in the past two games) the Nordic Charles Barkley? Is playing at home, where a team often inherently feels it can be extremely aggressive without fear of officiating scrutiny, that valuable? Or were the Celtics just not playing hard enough?