This is why you bust your tail to win the division, isn't it? So you
can play a team like this while your chief rival is engaged in hand-to-
hand combat with a leatherneck squad like the Hawks.
now, Billy Cunningham must have felt like crawling out onto the hotel
ledge in Atlanta after watching this exhibition on TV yesterday
afternoon. The Celtics went three-up in this seven-game series by again humiliating the Houston Rockets, this time by a 100-81 score.
This dreary exercise can now conclude tonight, and unless the
Rockets come up with a heart transplant, that's exactly what will
The story of this game was the same as that of the first two. The Celtics
couldn't shake the Rockets until late in the third period, but when it
got down to, as they say, the nitty-gritty, Boston simply dug in and
refused to allow the Rockets to score.
Thus, when a short turnaround by Moses Malone created a 55-53 situation, the Celtics
ho-hummed and ran off a 16-4 spurt in the next 5:29, the final two
coming on a beautiful 35-foot, left-to-right, fast-break pass from Larry
Bird to a streaking Rick Robey. This was, incidentally, one of three
consecutive Bird-to-Robey feeds over a brief stretch of 44 seconds,
encompassing the end of the third period and the beginning of the
Houston, which scored 141 points in the clinching
game against San Antonio, has now scored a mere 156 points in the last
two games of this series.
Furthermore, the Rockets' offense
has been restricted to two people, Malone and Robert Reid. This duo came
up with 51 of the 81 Rocket points yesterday afternoon, after having
scored 39 of the 75 on Friday.
Once-fearsome Rudy Tomjanovich
(3 for 11) played as if the game had started at 3 a.m. instead of noon,
CST. And coach Del Harris has also issued an all-points bulletin for
Calvin (3-for-8) Murphy. In fact, the only Rocket aside from the
aforementioned pair to crack double figures was Allen Leavell, with 10.
As for the Celtics,
if they were looking to hang a halo on anyone's head yesterday, a
logical candidate would have been Tiny Archibald, whose 20 points came
on 9-for-10 shooting and who threw in some strategically important
baskets for a team that hasn't been playing particularly good team
Archibald first heated up at a very opportune juncture, dropping in two long jumpers as the Celtics
expanded a 33-31 lead into a first-half spread of 45-35 with 21 seconds
to play. Tiny then dropped in three straight outside shots, taking it
from 47-43, Boston, to 53-45, Boston.
And it was Archibald
who responded to that 55-53 encroachment with a long jumper behind a
Dave Cowens pick. That was the kickoff of the defensively oriented 16-4
run, which broke open the game and insured that the final period would
be 12 minutes of glorified garbage time.
Holding a team to
156 points in two games is a remarkable achievement. In this case, it
resulted from the best concentrated stretch of team defense the Celtics
have come up with all year. Their defensive tenacity produced two
five-second in-bounds violations in the first quarter, as well as a
third turnover when Cowens forced Malone to lose the ball while throwing
And when the Rockets got within two in the third period, the Celtics dug in, forcing turnovers and creating four consecutive fast-break baskets during the key spurt.
Had the second half been as offensively inept as the first, this
game would not only have gone down as the worst Celtic playoff game of
all time, but also as the worst sporting event ever held in the city of
Bird was 0 for 3 in the first 43 seconds, and that seemed to set the tone. After eight minutes, the Celtics
were leading by an embarrassing 13-12 score and the Rockets had already
donated those two in-bounds turnovers. Boston assumed a 19-18
one-quarter lead, and would take the lead to stay at 29-28 on an
Archibald in-your-face jumper over Murphy.
There just wasn't
much to separate this game from the Friday encounter in Boston. Chris
Ford, for example, submitted his third Picasso on defense.
"His hands are moving all the time," marveled Cedric Maxwell (19 points,
12 rebounds), "and if he isn't stealing a pass, he's deflecting one."
What's amazing is how Ford can do all this and still guard Murphy,
who is much quicker. Bird, who numbered among his first-half misses (2
for 10) an air-balled 15-footer and a three-point effort from the corner
that hit the side of the backboard, began shooting better in the second
half. He also had seven second-half assists, and for a while all the Celtics had to do was get the ball to him for a guaranteed two points.
Three up, three down. There is no surer thing in sports. They simply
don't come back from 0-3, not in this sport anyway. And don't think the
Rockets aren't aware of it.