1984 Playoffs: Round 1
Game: Celtics 91, Bullets 83
Series: Celtics 1, Bullets 0
It was your basic tractor pull. a 48-minute tribute to "winning ugly." But it was also Boston's first playoff victory since Tree Rollins snacked on Danny Ainge's finger here last April 24, and you won't find anyone in Green arguing with last night's 91-83 win over the offensively inept but ever- bothersome Washington Bullets at the Garden.
As always, the Washington Winnebagos successfully reduced the tempo to its slowest common denominator. There was no running, but lots of sniping, grabbing and halfcourt set-up. "That was a very, very, physical game," said K.C. Jones. "We were lucky to come out with a win. (Rick) Mahorn and (Jeff) Ruland and (Greg) Ballard really did a physical job. That took its toll, and if we have to play that way the rest of the series, it's going to hurt us."
The Celtics won this first of the best-of-five series because they played wallpaper defense, employed superior depth, committed a season-low seven turnovers and played with the purpose of a team on a mission. They do not need to be reminded about the failures of 1983. The Bullets must be slightly discouraged. They forced the tempo, stripped the Celtics of all fast-break opportunities, yet lost.
"Yeah, it's very discouraging," said Ruland, who had 17 points, 13 rebounds, 10 assists . . . and couldn't believe that his team went to the line only 10 times all night. Meanwhile, Ballard (16 points) warned, "They're going to have to prove it to us again Thursday and again Saturday, that they can continue to play that style."
Larry Bird thinks Boston can win a halfcourt standoff. "It's hard to play against a team that slows it down like that," said the MVP-designee, who had 23 points, 12 assists and 7 rebounds in his 1984 playoff debut. "But this is one of the first times I've seen us play with a lot of patience."
Washington stayed even for the first 20 minutes. The Bullets held the Celtics to six rebounds in the first quarter, hit 12 of 21 shots and had things knotted, 27-27, at the end of one. Scott Wedman started the second quarter in the backcourt with Dennis Johnson (a flu victim). Wedman's only basket of the night pushed the Celtics to a 33-29 lead, and when Kevin McHale followed with a layup off a perfect Bird feed, it was 35-29 and the Garden was rocking.
Then the Bullets isolated Ricky Sobers (9 of 13 for 24 points) on Wedman, and Sobers hit three straight jumpers to put the Bullets back in the lead, 37-36, with 4:18 left in the half. That was it for Washington. K.C. Jones called time and inserted Gerald Henderson and DJ in place of Quinn Buckner and Wedman. After the pause, Robert Parish hit a rainbow, Cedric Maxwell converted a tough follow-up and DJ canned two free throws to make it 42-37. It was the start of a closing 10-2 run that gave Boston a 46-39 halftime lead. It should be noted that the Bullets went 2 1/2 minutes without taking a shot, hit 5 of 15 and scored only 12 points in the quarter.
Bird and Parish (12 points, 14 rebounds, and no interviews for the second consecutive game) shot the Celtics to a 56-45 lead early in the third. After a Washington timeout, Parish blocked a Ruland shot (a wonderful summit meeting), and DJ knocked in a transition jumper to make it 58-45 and force a 20-second timeout by the Bullets. Washington roared back with a 10-2 surge, cutting the margin to 60-57 on a preposterous falling-out-of-bounds jumper by rookie Jeff Malone, and forcing Boston to call time. The Bullets never got that close again.
The Celtics put the visitors away with a Parish follow-up, a coast-to- coast basket by DJ and four free throws by McHale. Boston opened it up with four more to start the final quarter and led, 72-59, with 11:17 showing. Noted Bird, "When they get down by 10 or 12 points, it's hard for them to come back." Ruland went to work underneath and scored six quick ones, but McHale (15) took Mahorn into the torture chamber for eight points in two minutes and the Celts led, 80-67, with 7:48 left. Buckner provided some late-game spark with three steals and four fourth- quarter points. Meanwhile, Bird eliminated the possibility of defeat with eight points in the final four minutes as the lead swelled back to double digits.