October 17, 1980
Spare me," you're saying. "Don't give me that bull about a Big Win in October. You can't have a Big Win in basketball before the World Series is over."
But it was, honest-to-Cooz it was. The Celtics, who feel they are a long way from being where they are going to be in March, really needed a confidence boost. They really needed, both collectively and individually, tangible evidence that they are closer to the 61-win team of last season than they are to the 29-win array of two seasons ago.
And so last night's 110-103 triumph over the Milwaukee Bucks was significant. It was not just another victory, or even just another road victory. Coming when, and how, it did, it represented mental plasma.
You want a hero? Start with Robert Parish, the mild-mannered Warrior expatriate whose 17 points and 13 rebounds hardly begin to reflect his enormous impact on this game. For it was Parish who was there at both ends when the Celtics really needed a lift, when a Milwaukee team was responding to the urging of the opening-night Mecca gathering of 11,052. Parish three times followed up Celtic misses with baskets in the fourth quarter, and he capped a brilliant night's work with a Cowensian running hook that gave Boston a 105-97 lead with 1:31 remaining.
Individual story No. 2 was Tiny Archibald, who bore no resemblance to the out-of-control wildman of two nights earlier. The Bucks wanted to apply full- court defensive pressure, but they found it to be a fruitless maneuver as long as Archibald kept blowing by them, often times slipping the ball to a galloping wing man for a layup.
"They outran us," said Milwaukee's Brian Winters. "Tiny did a helluva job bringing the ball up." Agreed Bill Fitch: "Tiny coming back (to form) was instrumental."
But the most impressive overall aspect from a Boston standpoint was the play of all the big people, and not just the heartening play of Parish. Rick Robey (15 points, 6 tough, traffic rebounds) and rookie Kevin McHale (13 points and 4 rebounds, all offensive) teamed with Parish to give the Celtics a big edge inside.
The Bucks, of course, were playing without Bob Lanier, and the victory must be judged in that light. "True enough," observed Robey, "but the thing is we took advantage of their center position."
As Fitch said, "They beat us twice during the exhibitions without Lanier on neutral floors. We weren't able to do anything about it then."
There was great similarity between the first three quarters of this game and the Tuesday night loss in Atlanta. Boston led at each checkpoint in that game, and they led here at the quarter (32-31,thanks to a spectacular steal and subsequent 45-foot, flying two-hand banker by Gerald Henderson at the buzzer) and the half (58-53), before settling for an 81-81 state of affairs after three quarters.
The remarkable thing about this whole business was that Larry Bird, who arrived as a 12-for-34 shooter, had simply stopped shooting altogether, winding up with a shocking eight points. Yet the team was able to pull it out.
Milwaukee had already blown a chance to build a meaningful lead back in the third quarter when Marques Johnson (27 points) missed a fast-break jumper and Mickey Johnson was assessed a loose-ball foul at 2:27. Instead of a seven- point lead (79-72), the Bucks wound up with just a three-point edge (77-74, when Robey sank two fouls). Milwaukee never got rolling again.
The key stretch in the game was a period of 3:39 from the 6:54 mark of the final quarter to the 3:15 mark. The Celtics, leading by a 97-88 score, turned the ball over on four of their next six possessions, but when it was over, they were still leading by nine at 101-92. The Bucks were finished.
The triumph, in sum, was a true team effort, the kind that made last season such a delight. Fitch and his charges now think it won't be the last they'll get to celebrate, and they're probably correct.