1.25.2010

The King Scores a Mere 13

Celtics 116, Knicks 102
Game 2
1984 Eastern Conference Semifinals
Celtics Lead Series 2-0


He finally whacked the water cooler in the closing minutes of the fourth period.

The evening was classified as "nothing more than a bad day at the office, everyone has one" by Bernard King, so he only was doing what everyone does, venting a little frustration and steam at a piece of the office equipment. The difference here was that the equipment was Celtics forward Cedric Maxwell.

The water cooler could say, "Ouch."

"It really got kind of nasty there at the end," Cedric Maxwell said after the Celtics had dropped the New York Knicks, 116-102, to take a 2-0 lead in this best-of-seven NBA playoff series. "It was a situation where Bernard got very frustrated."

Bernard. Bernard. Bernard. If the Knicks' playoff points machine was roped in the opening game of the series with 26 points, he was flat-out tied in this one. He was held to 13 well-spread, hard-earned points.

Thirteen.

"Has he been held that low all year?" Knicks assistant coach Rick Pitino was asked.

"I think he had an 11 one game," the coach answered. "But that was early in the year. This was the lowest in the second half."

Bernard. Bernard. Bernard. Here was a guy who averaged 42.6 points per game in five games against the Detroit Pistons, a guy who turned the scoreboard into his personal pinball machine, setting a five-game NBA record. Thirteen on this night. Thirteen.

The Celtics attacked him in a tag-team tandem, Maxwell and Kevin McHale alternating, pounding him, pushing him, tracking him around the floor as if he were going to lead them to a cache of hidden diamonds. Every time Bernard King received the ball, help also arrived for the defender. Guards slapped at Bernard's hands. Center Robert Parish leaped toward his face. Forward Larry Bird slid in from the side.

"Thirty-three," the Knicks guards would shout.

"Power right," the Knicks guards would shout.

"Forty-two," the Knicks guards would shout.

All the numbers for all the Bernard King plays were called. The Celtics would know the situations as well as the Knicks. Each call would be an alarm at the local firehouse that the smell of smoke had arrived in the neighborhood.

"It's nothing new," McHale said. "Everybody knows everybody else's plays. They know that we know that they know that we know. That they know. That we know."

"We're guarding Bernard almost as if he were a great hockey player," Maxwell said. "We're trying to cut down his shots on goal."

So well did the Celtics track their man, that he had only seven points at the end of the first half. He also had only seven at the end of the third period. No points in the period. Not one.

"The idea is that we're taking away the biggest part of their offensive game," McHale said. "They can switch and make Bernard a decoy and have other people take the shots, but they're not geared that way. A guy takes five shots on their team and right away he starts worrying that Bernard isn't shooting. He has to get the ball to Bernard.

"On our team, we're used to having decoys. Decoys? There've been games when I've felt as if I were a real mallard for an entire night."

To compound Bernard's problems, he also is guarding Bird in this series. (Not a decoy. The real Larry Bird.) Larry Bird was in one of those nights when he was just killing the ball, pumping 37 points through the basket, hitting 16 of 22 shots.

On one end, Bernard was being bounced and chopped by Maxwell and McHale. When the ball switched hands, he had to look for Bird somehwere in the open court - usually flying - and try to recover before Bird could blast home another jumper.

This was a long night for Bernard. Very long.

"Larry Bird says you're a good defensive player," a sportswriter said after the game. "He says that guarding him shouldn't tire you out any more than guarding anyone else."

"Oh, yes?" Bernard King replied with a nice smile. "Well, you tell him to try it some time. Be my guest."

Bernard seemed to take the night well. A bad night. That was all it was. Everyone has a bad night. This was his.

Maxwell and McHale? Well, they also guarded him during the season, didn't they? He had some good nights during the season, didn't he? Bad night. That's all. Bad night.

Frustrated? No. Not really, except by the game's result. Pounded by Maxwell and McHale? No. That's basketball. Basketball is a physical game, a rule you learn early on the no-foul playgrounds of Brooklyn and carry with you to college and then the pros. Any complaints, then? Any at all?

"I would like to shoot some foul shots some time," he said. "I think I shot two in the first game. Tonight, I didn't shoot any until late in the fourth period."

All this sounded very good, but his true feelings probably were shown by his body language in the fourth period rather than his words. His aggressive body language. He whacked Maxwell with an elbow after a Maxwell foul midway in the period. He leveled Maxwell with four minutes left, driving the Celtics forward to the ground with a succession of elbows as if knocking down a balky door to a phone booth.

That was the true frustration of Bernard King talking. That was his night, his bad day at the office, his attack on the water cooler. That was 13 points.

"You have to look at all this optimistically," assistant coach Pitino said, a statistics sheet in his hands. "Bernard's picture was on the cover of Sports Illustrated this week. He's lucky he wasn't hit by a car trying to get here."

He's also lucky Maxwell and McHale weren't on the road at the same time.

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