1983-84 Boson Celtics
EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J.
The Milwaukee Bucks are the solid B-plus students of the NBA.
They always turn in their assignments on time. They never throw spitballs at the blackboard. They aren't creative enough to earn A's, but the teacher always loves them because they never fail to volunteer for extra-credit projects. They never get caught with a joint out in the parking lot during the school dances and their parents are annually told by all their teachers what a pleasure it is to have them in class.
They are never thought of as an NBA colossus, but they are always lurking around the fringes of championship territory. And they will again be in the Eastern Conference finals, courtesy of Thursday night's tense 98-97 triumph over the New Jersey Nets.
After five dreadfully dull affairs, the teams finally played some playoff basketball that was worth the money. It was a game of alternating scoring bursts, and it was not decided until the final possession, when the estimable Sidney Moncrief, capping a gritty second-half performance, dived on a loose ball and smothered it as time ran out on the frustrated Nets, who never could recapture the offensive magic that had enabled them to eliminate the defending champion 76ers.
A sensationally-played fourth quarter had come down to the final minute and a half with the score tied at 95. With 1:22 remaining, Paul Pressey, in all probability on the floor only because Mike Dunleavy's injured thigh had tightened up too much to allow him to play, sank the second of two free throws, giving Milwaukee a 96-95 lead.
The Nets then went to Darryl Dawkins, who had been superb en route to a 29-point evening. Dawkins had hit three left-side, fourth-period jumpers in three attempts. But he couldn't make it 4 for 4. Moncrief picked up the miss and, on Milwaukee's possession, Pressey took a handoff from Marques Johnson and calmly swished a jumper from a step beyond the foul line, a shot that is as natural to him as bunting is to Dave Kingman. There were 41 seconds left and the Bucks led, 98-95.
Buck Williams, heretofore a certified Missing Person, then rebounded an Albert King miss and pitched it back to Micheal Ray Richardson, who banged home a 20-footer with 29 seconds to play. But that would be the final New Jersey possession of the season.
Again, Pressey was a key figure. With the 24-second clock almost wound down, he attempted a post-up jumper. The result was an air ball, but Moncrief knifed in for the 22d Milwaukee offensive rebound of the game. Knowing he had to draw iron in order to avert a 24-second violation, he threw up a lefthanded jump hook that would not drop. Richardson rebounded for New Jersey, only to have Johnson poke it away.
As might be expected, Mr. Moncrief beat everyone to the ball, flopping on it and smothering it at the buzzer.
The game, which had real playoff texture from the start, featured a number of alternating offensive explosions. The Nets began the game by moving behind Dawkins and Otis Birdsong to a 19-10 lead. New Jersey would later enjoy runs of 15-7 and 14-4. Milwaukee, meanwhile, strung together such stretches as 23-5, 20-6 and, finally, 18-8, the last a fourth-quarter outburst that turned an 81-77 New Jersey lead (with 7:17 remaining) into a 95-89 Bucks advantage with 2:53 to play. It took the Nets just 1:32 to tie the game at 95 on two Dawkins free throws, a Williams followup (his only second-chance points of the contest) and two more foul shots by Richardson with 1:32 to play.
While the Nets were relying mainly on the low-post power of Dawkins and the medium-range jumpers of Birdsong, Milwaukee was maintaining offensive parity by employing the spread offense it has warehoused for more than three years. Alarmed by his team's stodgy offense in the first five games, Don Nelson ordered a spread set that enabled Johnson and Moncrief to take advantage of their driving ability.
"We did it," explained Nelson, "because down the stretch all good teams take away your basic sets. They hadn't seen this before."
Let it be noted that while the outcome wasn't decided until the very end, there were many vital stay-alive segments of the game for the Bucks, not the least of which was a wonderful third-quarter rebounding and scoring display by 7-foot Paul Mokeski (8 points, 11 rebounds), whom Nelson picked off the waiver wire in the middle of the season.
And there was a superb sequence in the fourth period when Pressey first stole a King dribble - leading to a Moncrief fast-break layup - and then blocked a King shot on the next possession, resulting in a fast-break basket of his own.
So, yes, it was another fine team performance by these perennial straight- arrow students. The Milwaukee Bucks are coming. What else is new?