World B. Free Sounds Off after Celts Top Cavs

1983-84 Boston Celtics
Celtics 110, Cavaliers 108
Record: 19-6

World B. Free has never been bashful on the court about taking shots. And he is the same way off the court.That is why, when he waxed philosophic about the Celtics and Larry Bird after a 110-108 to the Cleveland Cavaliers last night, he raised more than a few eyebrows with a provocative remark. This was not frustration talking for an old Boston nemesis, who had scored 30 points in a losing cause. Free was dead serious.

"Boston plays good basketball," said Free. "But without Larry Bird, they are just an average team. He gets them an added dimension. Get it straight. I didn't say they were a bad team . . . just average." Not many in the sellout crowd of 14,890 at the Garden will argue the point. As a matter of fact, the Celtics did have a devil of a time beating the Cavaliers (8-17), blowing a 10-point lead in the second half. Despite a 30- point night by Robert Parish, the game wasn't decided until Bird hit a 20- foot jumper with four seconds left.

Bird had missed road victories in Atlanta and New York, and except for a fourth-quarter stretch in the Big Apple, he hadn't been missed. But strained knee ligaments or not, he went back in last night for 13 minutes and 13 points, and the Celtics freely admitted his presence was the difference. "We can play a different kind of game with Larry in there," said Parish. "Teams have to respect his outside shot, and they can't bunch up on us inside."

Cleveland probably wishes it had remembered that. Boston set up the game- winning play with 28 seconds left, a postup for Kevin McHale. Bird got a pass from Dennis Johnson with 11 seconds left, seven on the shot clock. He looked low to McHale, who was double teamed. Instinctively, Bird faked and then lunged in, sinking the game-winning basket over the outstretched arms of rookie Paul Thompson.

Ironically, it was Thompson who just missed a game-winning three-point play at the buzzer."When I got the ball," said Bird, "I looked at Kevin real quick and made a fake. I saw the defense shifted his way, and that's when I decided to take it. I tried to draw a foul, but the kid played good defense on me. "I was able to get the shot off, and fortunately it went in. It was a big shot, but just a shot that you hit or you don't. If you're worried about missing a shot at the end of a game, then you shouldn't be taking them." Bird, obviously, disagreed with Free's assessment of the Celtics.

"I don't believe that we're an average team without me," he said. "They already showed that by beating two great ballclubs, Atlanta and New York, on the road. They've won numerous games without me. I don't know if they could go a whole season, but I know they could play real well against good teams and give anybody a game. These guys take a lot of pride when somebody sits down. They come together and they play well." For three quarters, it was the Cleveland

Cavaliers who seemed to come together every time the Celtics tried to put them away. Bird had played six minutes in the first half and gave the Celtics a lift that helped them to a 56-52 intermission lead. Both teams were playing on consecutive nights, but the Cavaliers' young legs made them a very good team on this night. After Boston shot to a 72-62 lead in the third quarter, Cleveland started clawing away and outplayed the Celtics, who were being outmuscled inside by Cliff Robinson. Free led the early rush, and then Thompson got into the act, finishing with 23 points. Boston's lead after three quarters was only 85-82. Cleveland took the lead at 100-92 with four minutes to play. Boston tied it at 102-102, and the game wasn't decided until the final seconds.

For Celtics coach K.C. Jones, there was no other choice but to put Bird back into the game with three minutes left. "I didn't really want to bring him back," said Jones. "But the quicksand was up to our necks, so I told him to pull them (sweats) off. We didn't really deserve this one. Cleveland played very well and we were fortunate to pull this out. "We had played very emotionally in New York and were drained. That's why I feared Cleveland. They are a better team than last year and certainly better than their record."

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