1983-84 Boston Celtics
Celtics 104, Hawks 87
Larry Bird can rest easy. It's not that his Celtics teammates don't miss him. But his absence last night gave them a chance to learn something about patience and the art of winning, things that coach K.C. Jones has been trying to get across to them for some time. Boston got a 24-point night from Robert Parish in beating Atlanta, 104-87, before a stunned Omni crowd of 9917 that saw its Hawks lose for only the second time in 12 home games this year. But for Jones, an even more pleasing aspect of the Celtics' fourth straight victory was the manner in which his club took apart the Hawks' trapping defense, a pressure game the Celtics knew they'd see because they were playing sans Bird.
Boston did not panic when Atlanta clawed back from an 11-point third- quarter deficit to tie the game at 67. Instead, they concentrated on breaking the Atlanta pressure with good ball movement and patiently working their offense for good shots. When Parish, Kevin McHale or Cedric Maxwell weren't operating inside, the Celtics were working for shots for their guards, most notably Danny Ainge and Dennis Johnson. Scott Wedman's 16 points off the bench might not look overly impressive at first glance. But Wedman's points came on quality shots - often from long range - that simply destroyed the Hawks' tactic of double-teaming inside.
With six minutes left and Boston leading by just five, 86-81, the Celtics went on an 18-6 tear down the stretch, and the demoralized Hawks simply crumbled. "This was a good win for us," said Quinn Buckner. "We learned some things about ourselves that won't show up in the stats. You get so you depend on a 30-point scorer each night. This way, we had a lot of people contributing. We were aggressive on defense, and that's another key. We're still learning about each other, and if we can come as far as we've come in the last two games, we're going to be pretty tough down the stretch."
The Celtics were pretty tough from the opening whistle. Parish got 15 of his 24 points in the first half, when the Hawks' roughhouse basketball got Tree Rollins into foul trouble. The Celtics led in rebounds, 25-11, in the first half, and their 53-43 lead at intermission would have been even larger had they not turned the ball over 11 times. Atlanta clawed all the way, trailing at the quarter, 22-20, and only by six (49-43) late in the second period before Parish scored a basket with six seconds left in the half and a steal by Buckner led to a Maxwell layup that gave Boston its 10-point halftime cushion.
Boston was in trouble for a while in the third quarter, chiefly because the Atlanta backcourt of Eddie Johnson and Glenn Rivers was dynamite on both ends of the court. Boston saw a 58-47 advantage disappear, as the Hawks tied the game at 65 and again at 67. Johnson had 10 points and Rivers seven assists in that third quarter.But when Ainge took a feed from Wedman and hit a 17-foot jumper with 1:46 left in the third, the Celtics regained the lead for keeps. Boston led after three quarters, 75-71. The Celtics opened the fourth period by increasing their lead to 80-71, and Hawks coach Mike Fratello put his starting five back into the game with orders to press until one team dropped. The Hawks could get no closer than five points, however, and they ended up being the ones to drop.