Celtics Lose to Likely First Round Opponent

1983-84 Boston Celtics
Bullets 103, Celtics 99
Record 49-16
March 13, 1984

They came to town to remind you that if the Greenbrick Road to another flag starts in the nation's capital, it'll be like navigating Storrow Drive at high tide, or submitting to a three-hour interview with Mike Wallace. In a 48-minute Ben-Gay special last night at Boston Garden, the Washington Bullets showed the Celtics what "winning ugly" is all about as Gene Shue's tag-team wrestlers bulled and clawed their way to a 103-99 victory. It was Washington's second win on the parquet this year and had the Celtic fandom praying that somebody else plays Boston in the first round of the NBA playoffs.

Make no mistake, the Bullets earned this one. They were more aggressive, more physical and played better down the stretch. Don't let this ruin your day, but the loss dropped the Celtics to 8-9 in Atlantic Conference play, and Boston is 1-7 in games in which they are held under 100. "We hate to lose to a team we might play in the playoffs," said Larry Bird, "but they came to play and we didn't."

Washington's 39-33 rebounding edge marked the fourth time in five outings that the Bullets beat Boston on the boards. "They just physically beat us, and we didn't fight back the way we should have," noted Robert Parish (21 points, nine rebounds). "I thought we played a little timid out there. We should have been more aggressive." Brothers Beef & Co. led almost all the way. It was 34-25 after the first quarter. Darren (Make My) Daye scored 12 of Washington's 19 in the second period, and the Bullets led, 53-46, at intermission. Bird scored 14 of his 27 in the third quarter, and Washington's lead was down to 81-77 after three.

In the fourth, Ricky Sobers (18) and Jeff Malone shot Washington to a 90-81 lead with 7:48 left. The Celtics fought back with eight straight free throws to make it 90-89. They traded baskets for a few minutes. When Bird canned an unconscious bomb from the left corner to cut it to one, Washington called time with 3:54 left - presumably to give Ruland (20 points, 10 rebounds) and Rick Mahorn more raw meat. After the pause, a Parish turnaround gave the Celtics their first lead of the game. Greg Ballard (18 points, 9 rebounds) answered with two free throws, but Kevin McHale canned a jumper, and the Celtics led, 97-96, with 2:53 left.

Sobers put the Bullets back on top for good with two free throws. Then Bird lost the ball out of bounds under pressure from Ballard and a doubling Frank Johnson. "I went over and saw he had his back to me," said Johnson (three steals and eight assists). "I knocked it off his hand, and it went out of bounds." "I fell down and there wasn't much I could do," said Bird. "I was the last one that got a piece of it. He hit my hand with his, but still, I should have gotten control of it. That was the big play of the game."

The opportunistic Ballard came back with a bomb from the top to make it 100-97. When Gerald Henderson's out-of-control airball was rebounded by Ballard, the Bullets set up Frankie for a bomb from the top of the circle. Johnson's clutch basket made it 102-97 with 51 seconds left. The beaten Celtics called time. Henderson hit two free throws to cut it to three. With 18 seconds left, the Celtics got the ball back after forcing a 24-second violation. With Bird and Scott Wedman in the game, Henderson wound up taking Boston's last shot, a three-point airball attempt. Ruland snatched the rebound with five seconds left, and Sobers iced the game with one of two from the line.

"We played hard for 48 minutes," snarled Ruland. "No question we deserved to win." Bird agreed, and said, "We got to play hard the whole game and not just in the fourth quarter." K.C. Jones, who picked up a technical with 8:06 left ("That was the turning point; the refs went our way after that" - Ruland), said, "Execution is one of the things we have to improve, especially in the last four minutes."

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