Celtics 121, Knicks 104
Game 7 1984 Eastern Conference Semifinals
Celtics Win Series 4-3
You could say that this game was won on all those rainy days and Mondays in East Rutherford, Atlanta and Richfield - or you could go back further and say the Celtics won it when Red Auerbach gambled and picked junior eligible Larry Joe Bird in the spring of 1978.
Either way you look at it, the Boston Celtics yesterday rode a hard-earned home-court advantage and Bird's masterpiece theatre to a 121-104 victory over the New York Knicks in Game 7 of their Eastern Conference semifinal series. The win sets up a Celtics-Milwaukee Bucks Eastern final that starts in Boston tomorrow at 8 p.m.
Bird's performance was a Mozart of shooting, passing, rebounding and court presence. It would be hard to script a more complete effort. Call it a quadruple-double: 39 points, 12 rebounds, 10 assists and a dozen standing ovations.
The Hoosier Hoop Hosannah put an exclamation point on a seven-game set that had all the passion of an Elizabeth Barrett Browing sonnet: the classic showdown between MVP candidates Bird and Saint Bernard King, a mutual loathing between head coaches K.C. Jones and Hubie Brown, dueling insults, raucous crowds, national television, a bench-clearing brawl, three ejections, and obscene chants at both Gardens. One New York tabloid went so far as to compare M. L. Carr to David Berkowitz, calling him "M. L. of Sam."
What the series lacked was spontaneity and surprise. Home teams won all seven games. Five of the seven, including yesterday's game, were wire-to-wire victories with no comebacks. There were only four lead changes in 336 minutes. The team that scored the first basket won every game.
Appropriately enough, Bird set the tone in the Mother's Day finale, hitting a 16-foot fallaway from the left baseline in the 14th second of play.
"We wanted to go out and get off to a good start," Bird said.
Boston's start was very good. Shrugging off a bruised right shoulder that had caused him to miss Game 6, Dennis Johnson was equal parts George Gervin and Maurice Cheeks in the first quarter. He scored seven points in the opening three minutes, driving the Celtics to an 11-6 lead.
"We needed someone to really get it going," said DJ, who finished with 21 points and six assists.
After a baseline post-up turnaround by DJ, Bird converted a three-point play on a fast-break follow, then drove past King to make it 16-8 with less than four minutes gone.
Rory Sparrow and Truck Robinson (16 points, 9 rebounds), brought the Knicks back to 20-20 with 5:18 left in the first period, before Bird struck again, scoring eight straight in a 10-2 run that put the Celtics back in the comfort zone for the rest of the day.
Brown on Bird: "I hope nobody underestimates Larry Bird's performance. He was outstanding, and his game was hard to chart today because most of his stuff was from downtown . . . His performance was beyond description."
The Celtics led, 36-26, after one. Bird had 15 points, while King was held to zero baskets and two free throws.
"We did a good job on him," said Maxwell, who denied King his favorite spots and forced The Natural to miss six of his first seven floor attempts. "We didn't want him to get off to a good start. We did exactly what we had to do, which was to contain Bernard early in the game. When he scores early and gets 'em rolling, it's very good for their team."
In the first 12 minutes, the Celtics shot 56 percent to New York's 37 percent, and outrebounded the Knicks, 16-11. By then, for all practical purposes, the ballgame was over.
With Bird and Robert Parish (22 points on 10-of-14 shooting and 11 rebounds) sustaining the pressure, the Celtics jumped to a 47-32 lead early in the second quarter. The Knicks never got closer than nine and trailed, 67-52, at halftime. It was the most points allowed by the Knicks in any half this year.
Meanwhile, King had seven points on 2-for-9 shooting in the first two periods. He finished the game with a face-saving 24, but most of them came while the Bucks were making plane reservations for Boston.
In the second half, New York never got closer than 13 (73-60). The crowd was so involved, they wouldn't let us get down," said Kevin McHale.
Midway through the third period, McHale converted a dazzling feed from Danny Ainge to make it 78-60. After a 20-second Knick timeout, DJ stripped Ray Williams, and Ainge popped one in from out top to push the lead to 20. Then Bird drove a stake though the big Knick heart with a three-pointer from the outer limits.
"We knew if we lost we wouldn't be there tomorrow," said Maxwell. "That's all the incentive we needed . . . It was a great series, very emotional. A lot of things were said and done, but in the end, you have to give New York credit. They played with a lot of heart."
Said Brown: "We're a little fiesty. I think if we played Tuesday in New York, it would be 4-4."
"The home-court advantage won the series," added Robinson. "They earned it by having the best record in basketball over the course of the season."
Maybe the NBA regular season isn't so meaningless after all. Boston's 62-20 record came in very handy yesterday.