1983-84 Boston Celtics
As they board the Eastern shuttle without Larry Bird this morning, the Celtics find themselves in an unusual position: They have to prove something to the New York Knicks. Strange, but true. The Celtics have won four straight, eight of nine and carry a 17-6 record to the Big Apple, but they're also 0-2 against New York this season and have lost four of the last five contests between the two teams. Making matters worse, the upstart Knicks are getting downright cocky about playing Boston. "We're no longer in awe of the Celtic mystique," Knick guard Rory Sparrow said after New York's double-overtime win over the Celtics three weeks ago. "We know we can beat them," echoed Marvin Webster, New York's center and formerly a human eraser.
"They deserve the right to be cocky," admits Celtic forward Cedric Maxwell. "They've proven they're capable of beating us. For a while there we were handling them (19 out of 24 in one stretch) and really took them for granted. Now their improvement is cause for us to improve our play. I think it'll be an entirely different kind of game now. I'm pretty sure we'll beat 'em." "We got a lot of respect for New York," adds Danny Ainge. "But I don't think anyone here feels they're a better team or that our team should be beaten by them."
The Knicks are on a roll. Hubie Brown's hustlers have won 10 of 13, including Sunday night's impressive, 109-98 victory over the Lakers in the LA Forum. Despite getting only eight points from Bernard King, the Knicks blew out to a 23-point second half lead. New York's vaunted defense (allowing a league-low 101.8 ppg) held the Lakers to 40 points in the first half. The Celtics spent a good deal of time practicing against New York's trap defense yesterday. Kevin McHale filled in for Larry Bird, who worked out lightly before giving his injured right knee a rest. This will be Boston's second straight game wtihout Bird, who sprained ligaments in his knee while playing Denver Friday night. Bird had thoughts about playing tonight, but coach K. C. Jones decided it would be better for Bird to rest his wounded knee.
"It's my decision," says Jones. "Knowing Larry, he'd go out there and play hurt and might be out for the next nine or 10 games. It doesn't make any sense bringing him to New York now." McHale, Maxwell and Robert Parish will match up against New York's frontcourt trio of Truck Robinson, King, and Bill Cartwright. Cartwright (averaging 17.5 points and nine rebounds) demolished the Celtics with 26 points in New York's Nov. 22 victory. Celtic guards Gerald Henderson and Dennis Johnson will be staring at Ray Williams and Rory Sparrow when Parish and Cartwright tap off. "We have to establish something with this ballclub," says Henderson. "This is the best time. I think we have a little more depth and talent than they do, but against us they've executed and played good defense and we've been horsebleep."
Before practice, Dr. Thomas Silva said, "There's a very good possibility that Larry will be able to make a significant contribution tomorrow." When Bird tried to run, it was obvious he wasn't ready. "Each day it gets a little better," said Bird, who served as a non-union referee at yesterday's scrimmage. "It's not as weak as it was. I'm just happy now because it's not as serious as I thought it was."
Cornbread Maxwell has a sore left hip, Henderson a shin injury, and Scott Wedman chipped a tooth against the Hawks Saturday . . . The Celtics have held three consecutive opponents under 100 points . . . Knick officials were annoyed when they heard Bird was not coming. It will have some impact on the gate and New York would have preferred that the Celtics list Bird as "day to day."