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1.28.2010

Kevin McHale: Sixth Man of the First Quarter

Celtics 125, Bucks 110
Game 2
1984 Eastern Conference Finals
Celtics Lead Series 2-0


Like an earthquake, it didn't last long but when it was through shaking (and in this case baking) irreparable damage had been done.

It lasted just 3 minutes, 15 seconds and, as so often happens, it came early while most of Milwaukee slept. But when it was finished there was nothing left of the proud Bucks but ruins.

Oh, sure, the game was still young after Kevin McHale had poured in 14 points between the final 2:18 of the first quarter and the first :57 of the second.

Oh, sure, the Bucks had plenty of time to come back despite trailing by 16, 37-21, with 11:03 to play in the half.

Oh, sure, once the shaking stops you can rebuild on more solid ground.

Oh, sure.

"You don't make comebacks all the way," Bucks coach Don Nelson admitted after McHale's 24 points had greatly aided his Celtic teammates in their 125-110 destruction of Milwaukee in Game 2 of the Eastern Conference finals last night at the Garden.

"They are a very good squad . . . It's very tough to have to play a team like that, coming from behind."

Such a task becomes especially tough after the man you have spent two days designing a defense to stop tears your plan to shreds in less time than it takes Michael Jackson to sing "Beat It."

For two days, ever since he watched his team being demolished in Game 1, Nelson had been hatching an intricate plan to stop McHale. Nelson tinkered with his lineup and his thinking, finally settling on the idea of starting sixth man Junior Bridgeman instead of Alton Lister.

This move allowed Nelson to match the 6-foot-11 Lister against the 6-10 McHale rather than creating a straight, sixth-man mismatch of McHale and the 6-5 Bridgeman.

It seemed a perfect plan to Nelson.

It turned out to be perfectly ruinous.

"McHale is a difficult matchup for us, but by starting Junior and keeping Lister out we stayed a jump ahead of them with substitutions," Nelson said. "But McHale still had a great first half."

The run that made that half (and the Celtics' victory) began with the kind of shot that tells you something. It was short enough, just a five-foot turnaround hook from the baseline, but once it went in Kevin McHale knew this was his night.

"When I threw it up from behind the basket and it went in I said, Oh, my. I got it tonight,' " McHale said.

"I felt very comfortable from the moment it went in. I was keyed up to play since 1 o'clock. Then I hit a couple shots and they started going to me.

"When a professional player gets that feeling it really doesn't matter who's guarding him. You're very in tune with things. You know when you've got it. That's when you try to get the ball in a position to shoot.

"If you do, you'll normally shoot a high percentage."

McHale shot about as high as you can expect, going 5 for 6 from the field and 8 for 8 from the line in the first half, exhibiting the kind of accuracy that convinces one's teammates to pass the basketball.

"The hot man gets the ball," Celtics coach K.C. Jones said. "Pure and simple: Kevin McHale was the guy and we kept going to him."

And McHale kept going to the basket, leaning in for a six-footer from the lane, and then forcing three straight Buck fouls in the final 64 seconds with drives to the basket that were ultimately translated into six points and a 32-21 first-quarter lead.

What had once been a five-point game was quickly turning into a dilemma. And before long that dilemma would become disaster.

A nine-foot McHale fallaway from the lane opened the second quarter. He followed that with a reverse lay up off a baseline drive. Both were unanswered.

And then, as quickly as it had begun, it was over. All was quiet, or at least reasonably so, after a misplaced Lister elbow found a home in McHale's groin.

But by then the damage was done, as were the Bucks.

"When you can get a 17- or 18-point lead early - even if the other team runs off six or eight - they look at the scoreboard and feel like they haven't accomplished a thing," McHale said.

"Then you get a couple of baskets and they look and they're still down by 15."

Down, and in this case, out.

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