Celtics Take 2-Zip Lead over Bullets

1984 Playoffs: Round 1

Game: Celtics 88, Bullets 85
Series: Celtics 2, Bullets 0
April 1984

Where there was chaos and collapse in '83, there is confidence and conviction in '84. The Celtics aren't going to be stunned this spring and should be looking forward to a second-round series with the Knicks or Pistons by the time you carve into your Easter ham. K.C. Jones and the Sunshine Band made it two straight in this best-of-five series against Washington last night, beating the Stonehenge Gang, 88-85 in another 48-minute tribute to Clyde Lovellette.

While Boston finds itself on the threshold of a sweep tomorrow, the Bullets must look to the 1956 Fort Wayne Pistons for inspiration: the old Pistons are the only team to win a best-of-five after losing the first two. "I don't think they can beat us," proclaimed Kevin McHale. "They've got to be sitting over there saying to themselves, What more can we do?' "

"We've done everything we got to do to win," said Bullet assistant coach Bernie Bickerstaff. "We just haven't caught a break." The Bullets won't expire due to heart failure. Against all odds, the team with the Store-24 bench has taken the Celtics to the limit twice in Boston Garden. Last night Washington trailed throughout the second and third quarters, battled foul trouble and fought back into a three-point lead early in the fourth. Boston's victory wasn't assured until Jeff Ruland's offbalance three-point heave sailed way to the left of the basket as the buzzer sounded.

Events leading to Ruland's no-hope hoist were most interesting. After seven lead changes early in the final period, the Celtics took over for good with six straight: A Dennis Johnson (3-15) fallaway from the right baseline, two free throws by Larry Bird (23 points), and a McHale conversion of a Picasso pass from Bird. Two minutes later, Bird rattled in a 16-foot shake-and-bake special to make it 87-80 with 4:42 left. It was Boston's final basket.

While Boston went scoreless for 4:28, the Bullets closed to 87-85 on a Ruland free throw, drive by Ricky Sobers and two free throws by Ruland. In their final possession, the Celtics worked the clock down below 20 seconds. Hero Gerald Henderson (10 for 15, 21) missed a hurried shot, but Parish pulled down the biggest rebound of the night. "I'd like to give him three weeks rest after that last rebound he got," noted Jones.

The weary Parish (45 minutes and too tired to talk again) was fouled by Ruland. His first free throw was almost an airball. The second one went in, breaking Boston's big chill and boosting the lead to 88-85 with 14 seconds left. After a timeout, the Bullets inbounded and got the ball past midcourt. When Frank Johnson was smothered by Cedric Maxwell, he called for another timeout with 0:05 showing.

"Give the Celtics credit," said Bickerstaff. "They did a great job of defense on that play. Max came up and made the jump switch. We wanted that, but when Greg (Ballard) flowed into the three-point area, Gerald Henderson had the presence of mind to jump into the passing lane. They played it great."

The Bullets couldn't get much after their final time out. Ruland inbounded to Sobers, got it back and tossed a no-hope three-point try. Mr. Beef's heave hit nothing but air and the buzzer sounded. "I don't know what else we can do, but we're not going to let down," said Ruland, who went 47 minutes again and finished with 16 points, 10 rebounds, 8 assists and 5 turnovers.

Washington has carried out its game plan perfectly. "They just say, Come hell or high water, Boston's big people are not going to beat us.' " Maxwell (7) Parish (11) and McHale (6) combined for 24 points - less than half of their regular season average (an aggregate 49 points per game). They were all scoreless in the first quarter when the Bullets shot 65 percent and rode a 15-2 surge to a 29-19 lead.

The Bullets had Sobers and Frank Johnson dropping down to help out on Parish and Company. Henderson and DJ were continually left wide open and responded by scoring 13 of the Celtics' first 17 points. Celtic observers know that Boston is in for a long night when the guards are scoring most of the points. It was, therefore, no great surprise when Washington smoked the Celtics in the final 4:36 of the period.

Boston led, 17-14, when the Bullets exploded with 10 in a row. The Bullets got an unexpected lift from their much-maligned bench. Tom McMillen and Darren (Make My) Daye contributed seven of the 15 big ones. The humbled Celtics bounced back with 12 in a row to start the second. McHale (who did not play in the first period), joined Parish and Bird and hurt the Bullets with a tough followup and a couple of free throws. Scott Wedman and Quinn Buckner manned the backcourt for the Celtics during the comeback stretch.

At the other end, Washington went into one of its famed freezes, missing five straight shots. Ballard (20) and Sobers (18) brought the Bullets close with some bombs, but Washington was outscored, 30-18, in the period and trailed by two (49-47) at intermission. Henderson and Sobers dueled in the third period, which ended with the Celts clinging to a one-point lead.

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