The lessons learned are usually only for the purists. And after watching the undermanned Bucks stun the heavily favored Celtics, it seemed to be an obvious one.
But coaches live in a different world, so it was interesting that Milwaukee's Don Nelson and Boston's Bill Fitch would attach a special significance to the Bucks' 107-105 victory last night at the Milwaukee Arena.
"Naturally, this was an important victory for us," Nelson was saying. "But it's a significant one because we won not only with our starters out, but at home in a really tough game against a good team.
"We needed to have a game like this. It wasn't that we don't have eight good people behind the three that were out. But while we've showed it on the road, we haven't been able to do it at home this year for some reason. Maybe a game like this will get us over the hump."
Bill Fitch was trying to be amusing. But those who know him understand that losing isn't really a laughing matter, even though he might make it sound that way.
"It's like I was telling the other guys," he said. "We didn't start to play until the fourth quarter. It's like we were asleep and didn't get a wakeup call until 9:30. We played terrible. The only guy who played up to his potential was Tiny (Archibald) and even he wasn't that hot on defense. And Detroit is coming around now, and they can put out eight players who are potentially better than the eight who beat us tonight.
"But I'm not just going to accept this as one of those defeats. I hope we learned a lesson. We're not good enough either individually or as a team to have an off night in this league and expect to win. A lot of times it is a game like this that brings out the weaknesses we have. This one did."
The lesson learned by the Celtics is not an unfamiliar one. On any given night in the NBA . . . Milwaukee was playing with 60 percent of its starting unit. Three All-Stars - center Bob Lanier, guard Brian Winters and forward Marques Johnson - were all on the sidelines with various injuries. Never was a team so ripe for plucking, it seemed. Nelson's reference to getting over the edge was to call attention to the fact that the Central Division leaders, who have the NBA's best road record (12-2), had only a 7-4 mark at home before last night.
When you consider that Boston had won eight of its last nine games, the prospects seemed ever brighter, even though the Celtics began the night with only a 6-4 record on the road. Milwaukee came out storming with a strange lineup that included the likes of Pat Cummings and Harvey Catchings. Quinn Buckner and Mickey Johnson were regulars. But Sidney Moncrief is something more than your average third guard, scoring three times on a crowd-pleasing, flying dunk shot, and stealing the ball for another layup for his fourth basket. He also scored the first eight points of the fourth quarter when the Celtics were expected to make their move.
Then there is Junior Bridgeman who often does his thing coming off the bench. But this night hit a sizzling 12 of 17 shots. He helped turn what was a bad defensive matchup for the Bucks into an advantage. The Bucks had the quickness to overcome Boston's passing game, which was supposed to go inside, but didn't. Milwaukee also had amore effective fastbreak. On the times when Milwaukee did miss shots, it was that same quickness, along with a little leaping ability, that enabled the Bucks to get second and third shots.
"And that was the key," said Robert Parish. "Give credit to them because they were running and getting second shots. It seemed the fact that they were playing without those three guys made them play at a higher level. We had trouble running our plays early, and even when we did get good shots we got only one."
Larry Bird, who was supposed to take the game-tying shot in the final seconds, but didn't, could only agree with his teammate.
"We just didn't play well," he said. "And the unit the Bucks had out there played very well. We didn't execute the plays we did try and we didn't get our fastbreak going. We might have done better with Lanier and the other guys in there. Every time the ball went to the middle, the Bucks sagged in and played a good helping-out defense."
It was probably good helping-out defense that decided the game in the final minutes, although no one would say for sure. After falling behind by nine points, 100-91, with 3 minutes 11 seconds left, Boston got its act together and cut the deficit to only two points, 107-105. The Celtics had the ball and eight seconds on the clock.
Parish was one of the keys to the rally, scoring eight straight points at one point. Mickey Johnson also helped the Celtics cause. The Buck forward may be barred for life from ever taking the ball out of bounds. Twice his passes led to Celtic points, and Boston took advantage of the one pass he got inbounds when Buckner missed a pair of free throws that put Boston in a position to tie or even win the game in the final seconds.
But it never happened. It began with an inbound pass to Parish. "They'd used the same play a few moments before," said Nelson, "So even though we were guessing, we had an idea of what they might try."
A wild sequence followed. Parrish eventually got the ball to Archibald who passed it back. Then the Celtic center hurried a pass to Bird, who nearly fell out of bounds trying to catch it. Bird did save a turnover when he looped an off-balance pass to Cedric Maxwell as he fell. But it wasn't a crisp pass, bouncing off Max's hands and against the side of the backboard. From there Archibald wound up with it, and his last-second desperation shot bounced off the rim.
"Sure, he was fouled," said Fitch. "But you can't expect to get a call like that on the road, especially the way that we played. You have to earn the respect off an official for that kind of call. We certainly didn't do that tonight."