If you're the coach of this here Celtics team, you hand out the individual citations to your Johnsons and your McHales and your Parishes, you salute the bench trio which helped put away the game, then you point out to the troops that if they don't play better tomorrow and Monday, they'll be right back here tied up at 2-2.
Right now the Celtics are up, 2-0, in their best-of-seven Eastern Conference semifinal playoff series against the Hawks, thanks to last night's 108-97 victory at Boston Garden, which bore a distinct stylistic resemblance to Game 1. They are in command. Yes, they are capable or raising it a notch when they get to Atlanta.
Among the more prominent aspects of this game were an embarrassing 9-point Atlanta first quarter; a 30-point Hawks second quarter which had them within 6 at halftime; a 14-rebound, 3-block showing by Robert Parish; a 9-for-9 second-half shooting performance by Kevin McHale; a strong bench performance capped by Artis Gilmore's crowd-awakening block on Dominique Wilkins at a pivotal fourth-quarter juncture; and another capital-H, Humongous performance by Dennis Johnson, who simultaneously buried seven second half jump shots and Atlanta's comeback dreams.
"What I saw," recounted Atlanta mentor Mike Fratello, "were three big offensive rebounds and put-backs by Robert Parish in the first half. I saw their entire frontcourt in double figures by halftime. And then, once again, I saw Dennis Johnson make the big shots in the second half. That's the way the game comes back to me."
Down by a humiliating 25-9 score after one period (you get that way by making 4 of 26 shots), the Hawks repeated their Game 1 second-quarter metamorphosis by slicing the Boston lead to 4 (39-35) before winding up a hopeful 6 down at intermission. At the 8:50 mark of the third period, a basket by Randy Wittman made it 51-49, Boston, the closest the game had been since 10-9, way back during a 25-4 Celtics first-quarter run. With that hoop, the series officially began, because for the remainder of the period, and right through the first five minutes or so of the final period, this was true playoff basketball.
Even with McHale pumping in 6 for 6 in the third quarter, and even with the team scoring on 11 of its final 13 third-quarter possessions, the Celtics could do no better than a 75-71 lead entering the fourth quarter. Atlanta seemed to have found itself offensively -- at last.
Better yet, from an Atlanta viewpoint, the majestic McHale had four fouls and started the fourth quarter on the bench. K.C. Jones was protecting his lead with the quintet of Larry Bird (a quiet 16-8-6 sideman), Mark Acres, Artis Gilmore, Jim Paxson and Johnson.
At 77-73, McHale replaced Bird. First there was an Acres free throw, then a clock-beater by the ubiquitous DJ to make it 80-73. With Fratello frantically signaling for a timeout ("I didn't want it to get to 9"), Wilkins, a horrifying 8 for 24 (keyed by an 0-for-7 first quarter), spun into the lane for a 360 special. The shot was blocked by Gilmore, picked up by DJ and fed ahead to a streaking McHale for a layup.
Indeed, it now was up to 9 and, indeed, Fratello's instincts had been correct. He called time out to the sound of the biggest crowd reaction of the night. His team would fall behind by as many as 18 (103-85) and would never come closer than 8 again.
K.C. Jones was very subdued afterward, since there were both things to like about the game and things not to like. Among the former was the play of his bench. "To see Mark Acres play well out there, and particularly Artis, was gratifying," the coach said. "Artis was active he also had a tip-in at 87-77 and he really gave us a lift."
Among the latter was the routine frittering away of the 16-point first-quarter lead. "I was very apprehensive that the lead would disappear, which it did," said Jones. "That early lead was misleading. We have a habit of losing those things. We have to get better. It will be a different world when we get to Atlanta."
The Hawks, meanwhile, maintained that they had done everything right during the first period except put the ball in the basket (i.e., "Other than that, Mrs. Lincoln, how did you like the play?"). "Really," insisted Doc Rivers, "we played a great first quarter, except that we didn't make our shots, so maybe we didn't play such a great first quarter."
Let the record show that a three-point play by Rivers, followed by a stop-and-popper, made it 5-0, Hawks. But at 10-9, Boston, the Atlanta offense ceased for 7:20, in part because a Boston defense anchored by the marauding Parish was very effective, in part because the Hawks missed some makeable shots and in part because there may have been a medieval curse placed upon this team when they enter the Garden, where just two years ago they were hit with a 36-6 third quarter.
And here's a cheering thought for the Hawks. If they win a game in Atlanta, the reward will be yet another trip to Boston Garden.
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