1983-84 Boston Celtics
Celtics 117, Suns 109
March 12, 1984
These are dog days for the NBA elite. Waiting for the playoffs is like hanging around for high school graduation after you've been accepted to the college of your choice. With 18 regular-season games remaining, the Celtics own basketball's best record (49-15), plus a 9 1/2 -game lead over the second-place Philadelphia 76ers. Yesterday's methodical 117-109 victory over the Phoenix Suns stretched Boston's latest winning streak to six and reduced the magic number to 10.
"We're playing pretty well as of late," said Larry Bird, who eclipsed the Suns with 29 points, 10 assists and 7 rebounds. "Our goal is to get our game ready for the playoffs and peak at the right time. You have to be in the right frame of mind for the playoffs." The Celtics have good karma at the moment. They've been playing tough team defense and are dictating their offense by forcing the running game. Boston's last five victories have been against playoff teams, including a D.C. demolition of the Bullets, a dance marathon conquest in Milwaukee's chamber of horrors and yesterday's tidy thumping of Phoenix.
Coach K.C. Jones rewarded his troops by giving them today off, an unthinkable gesture during the Bill Fitch regime. "It's a very good team, very well coached," observed Suns coach John MacLeod. "They have a lot of talent on the team. Bird, (Cedric) Maxwell and (Robert) Parish are all very effective." MacLeod should know. Boston's treetop trio vaporized Phoenix with 81 points, 30 rebounds, 17 assists and 4 blocks. Parish finished with a game-high 33 points and a team-high 12 rebounds. Max recorded 19 and 11.
Meanwhile, the Celtics again got a lot out of starting guards Dennis Johnson and Gerald Henderson. Henderson had 10 points and five assists. DJ, who obviously loves to play against his former teams, scored 10 with nine rebounds and four assists. The DJ-for-Rick Robey trade looks most lopsided when these teams meet (Red Auerbach didn't have the heart so show up for yesterday's mismatch). In two games against the Suns, DJ outscored Robey, 24-6, and - worse - outrebounded him, 18-5. He also effectively shut down Walter Davis twice. Davis was scoreless in the first half yesterday and finished with 13 on 6-for-14 shooting.
"Dennis knows all the plays," said Davis. "Maybe we should have changed some of the numbers. Every time we called something, he was right there." Phoenix' James Edwards had 12 of his 16 in the first half, which ended in a 52-52 tie. The Celtics blew it open with a 38-29 third quarter. Boston shot 62 percent (13 for 21) in the period, and Parish scored 15 of the 38 points. Bird came through with another 11, including a lefthanded drive and a chest- thumping three-pointer. "I thought Boston did a good job in the second half," said MacLeod. "They hurt us defensively in the third quarter. They beat us down the floor with long passes and beat us on the offensive boards."
Parish scored five in a 9-2 run that took the Celtics from 79-73 to 88-75 late in the third. It was 90-81 after three, but Maurice Lucas (21 points, 13 rebounds) and Kyle Macy (14) brought the Suns back to within three (97-94) with 6:50 left. Phoenix had two chances to close the gap to one, but Macy and Paul Westphal missed jumpers before DJ scored on a drive. Westphal cut it to three one last time with a pair of free throws, then Bird fed Kevin McHale for a pair of easy baskets. That started a 10-2 run, which was capped by a Henderson fast-break, fall-down jumper that made it 109-98 with 2:16 left.
"Down the stretch we did a much better job on their inside people," said Parish, who has snapped out of his West Coast blues with a vengeance. "Plus, a couple of steals ignited our fast break. We try to put pressure on people to establish our running game." The pressure, the break and the rebounding were all evident. Never satisfied, Bird noted, "We still had a lead and let 'em back in. We can't afford to do that. We'll be better when we start finishing people off."