October 11, 1980
There just wasn't much to distinguish this one from, say, any 650 or 700 of the previous 1584 Celtic triumphs in their glorious NBA history. The primary fourth quarter issue was whether the Celtics would win by 40 or 25. The Cavaliers were probably wondering where Angelo Dundee was when they needed him.
The Garden fans have been there before. They've seen start-to-finish triumphs in which the Celtics never trail, not even 1-0. They've seen first- period leads of 8-1, 20-10 and 34-15. They've seen every Boston starter in the scoring column by the time the game was 3 1/2 minutes old before. They've seen eight Celtics in double figures. They've even seen their heroes expand a 97-74 three-quarter lead by scoring the first 13 points of the final period. So an opening night final of Boston 130, Cleveland 103 qualified as deja vu, and nothing more.
The destruction of the Cavaliers was so easy that it might have eliminated the possibility of legitimate Celtic analysis. The Cavaliers played like a team incapable of winning 10 games in this league. They simply can't be that bad. Or can they?
"It was our defense that let us down," said Bill Musselman, whose NBA coaching debut probably ranked very low on his personal list of top 41,000 sports thrills. "They kept posting us, and nobody was helping out. We held a Chicago team with David Greenwood, Larry Kenon and Reggie Theus in the lineup to 25 points with four minutes to go in the half of one exhibition. I am very disappointed that we didn't play good set defense."
Defense was also on Bill Fitch's mind. "Our offense was spotty, but our defense was consistent. Early in the season, it's usually the other way around."
The Celtics simply never allowed Cleveland to play. It was as if the Celtics derived some mysterious benefit from the warm-ups that they were unwilling to share with their guests. Robert Parish got the Celtics started 19 seconds into the game with one of his medium-range turnaround jumpers, and the closest Cleveland would come the rest of the evening was a Randy Smith free throw that made it 2-1 14 seconds later. The checkpoint scores were 36-21, 66-47 (on an Eric Fernsten tap-in of a missed Gerry Henderson free throw with three seconds left) and 97-74. The Cavaliers only crept within 10 points once (36-27) in the final 40:30 of the game, and when they did, the Celtics responded with a run of eight straight points. The lead peaked at 36 twice (110-74, 112-76) in the final quarter. Please understand that we are talking about a major league flogging.
Primary floggers included M.L. Carr, who devoured young Roger Phegley in a Holmes-Ali type of big guard matchup; Cedric Maxwell, who helped himself to seven rebounds and seven points on the offensive boards in the first period; and Kevin McHale, who sparkled during the aforementioned second-quarter response and who made Mike Mitchell and Bill Robinzine the first two of what will probably become a cast of NBA thousands to find their shots sent up to the organist by this deceiving young frontcourt monster.
What matters most to the first-night crowd, however, was not that certain individuals advanced their causes. Rather, the hoop worshippers departed the Garden feeling they had seen a group of players who thought and acted like Celtics. The ball moved the way it did last season. They came right out and gave the fans a Durante; i.e., everybody was getting into the act.
It hardly appeared accidental that newcomer Parish received the ball early and often. "Sure," said Carr, "Robert is a veteran, but you don't know how he's going to react out there on the Garden floor the first time as a Celtic. We wanted to get the jitters out early, if there was going to be any. It was nice to see him hit that shot right away."
"If I see Robert guarded by a guy 6-9 (Dave Robisch,)" added Larry Bird, "I'm getting it into him."
While the Celtics were sharing the ball, the impotent Cavs could only turn to Mitchell during the first half. The brilliant young forward utilized an assortment of medium-range jumpers to score 16 of Cleveland's first 31, 22 of its first 37, 24 of its first 43 and, finally, 26 of its halftime 47. He was 10 for 21 at the half. His mates were 7 for 28. Cleveland's woes clearly extended beyond set defense.
So what did it all mean? If nothing else, it showed that the Celtic heads are in the right place. But it would be nice had the boys offered one up for the schedule maker when they said their beddy-by prayers. This really wasn't one of the great nights in Celtic history.