Bucks 122, Celtics 113
Game 4 1984 Eastern Conference Finals
Celtics Lead Series 3-1
The Bucks aren't dead yet. In fact, they were very much alive last night when, with nothing but pride at stake, they showed the Celtics they would have to earn their ticket to the NBA finals.
Certainly, the Celtics had no idea they'd be ambushed by Milwaukee, 122-113, in Game 4 of the Eastern Conference championships. And instead of sweeping into the finals, the Celtics were lucky to get out of town with their self-esteem intact as Milwaukee ran up a 16-point lead, held off a major Celtic run, then won going away.
What happened to the Celtics last night is not to be confused with the shocking defeats they suffered after having 2-0 leads in both the Washington and New York series. Boston didn't choke; the Bucks simply came out and took it to Celtics in a manner that had been expected all along.
Game 5 will be played tomorrow night at Boston Garden, where the Celtics have won eight straight playoff games. Game 6 of this best-of-seven series, if necessary, will be played here Friday night.
Larry Bird had 32 points to again lead Boston, but the Bucks finally got their running game in gear and produced a balanced scoring attack led by reserve guard Paul Pressey (22 points) and Junior Bridgeman (20).
Bird's fine stats (including 8 assists and 10 rebounds) were misleading, because for most of the evening he was a one-man band.
Boston's inside game, normally devastating against the Bucks, was off, Robert Parish hitting for just six points and Kevin McHale coming off the bench for six more. Celtic basketball, it wasn't.
The Celtics lost this one when Milwaukee came out running and built up a 61-46 lead at halftime. "Milwaukee didn't do anything we didn't expect," said coach K.C. Jones. "They played hard and showed tremendous pride and concentration. We didn't get out of the blocks at all. They opened it up, and went right at us."
Boston and Milwaukee are teams that like to run, and in their 109-100 loss Saturday, the Bucks had tried to open up the court by using their small starting lineup that included Bridgeman and Marques Johnson at forward, Sidney Moncrief and Mike Dunleavy at guard. This is the same unit that had played so well against New Jersey but until last night had not shot well.
It was a different story last night as Milwaukee broke fast and it was Boston that wilted. After leading by only 30-29 at the quarter, the Bucks outscored the Celtics, 31-17, in the second period.
The Celtics were not happy about what happened in that second period, and they gave officials Darell Garretson and Jess Kersey partial credit for the Bucks' breakaway as they broke up a 42-39 game with a 16-2 run.
Milwaukee, taking advantage of the fact the Celtics weren't helping out on defense, drove the middle again and again for layups or easy jump shots. Boston's inside game melted in a rash of physical play that upset Jones so much he blasted the officials every way he could - except by name. Jones was hit with a technical foul as the teams left the floor at the end of the second period.
"I didn't like the way our people were being held," fumed Jones. "Bob Lanier is a beautiful player and a leader. But he can hold with the best of them and block you off the court. It's amazing what was going on. Any time our guys touched somebody, we got a foul called."
But crying about the officials can't change the fact that Milwaukee is still alive in a series in which they were thought to be all but dead.
"I told my players it's a hard thing for any team to sweep another four games," said Bucks coach Don Nelson. "We did it last year, but something like that is a fluke. We're a proud team and a good team. It's hard to beat a good team four in a row."
As hard as it seemed when the Celtics trailed by 16 points, a comeback did not seem out of the question in the fourth quarter, and Bird almost singlehandedly led the rally. He scored 17 of his 32 points in the final period as Boston cut the lead to four points four times - the last at 104-100. Bird hit twisting jumpers and fast-break layups as the Bucks sweated out the loss of another big lead, as they had Saturday afternoon when Boston overcame a 15-point deficit to win.
But as Bird faded, so, too, did Boston, and Milwaukee's bench finally took up the slack. If it wasn't Pressey who did in the Celtics, it was reserve center Paul Mokeski, who got 12 points in 24 minutes.
"If we could have just gotten it to two points," said Bird, "it might have been a different story. But we missed a key shot at that point (104-100) and Mokeski came back and hit a big basket. After that, we never got over the hump."
Getting over the hump was a problem for a lot of Celtics, especially the big men: Parish hit 2 of 7 shots and McHale only 2 of 10.
"We depend a lot on our inside game," said Bird, "and if that is not going well, it puts a lot of pressure on the rest of our team. Our shots weren't going in, particularly in that second period. That's when the game was lost. We showed a lot of courgage in coming back, but we ran out of gas."
While the Celtics obviously would have preferred a sweep, said Cedric Maxwell, they are happy to come home with a 3-1 lead: "We accomplished what we wanted when we came here. We won one game and we've got a 3-1 lead. I like our position better than their position.
"We didn't shoot and we self-destructed in the last five minutes of the first half. But we haven't lost yet on our court, and I'm sure we'll beat them there."