A STRONG START FOR MCHALE
Last night's starting role was a first for Kevin McHale, the third player chosen in last spring's NBA draft, and he gave his new experience a somewhat mixed review.
"I enjoyed starting tonight," said McHale, who played a career high of 34 minutes in the Celtics' 94-85 victory over the Pistons before a shivering crowd of 4327 at the Silverdome. "Because Maxwell was hurt, I knew I'd play a lot. Although, lately, I've been getting a lot of minutes anyway.
"But frankly, I like the idea that I can come in off the bench, especially since we have great forwards ahead of me in Larry Bird and Cedric Maxwell. I've been watching the way Joe Barry Carroll has been going for Golden State. Some nights he's smoking and gets, say 21. Other nights he gets only eight. I know he's under a lot of pressure.
"With this team, I can go out and play my game without a lot of pressure. I'm learning each day and in each game. I was pleased with my game tonight, except for that dunk shot I blew, because I viewed it as another good learning experience."
McHale understandably was the center of attention last night. Filling in for Maxwell, who was home recovering from a bout with George Brett's disease (hemorrhoids), McHale sank 10 of 17 shots and finished with 21 points. He was credited with only two of the 12 blocked shots by the Celtics, but will argue that he had more.
"I must have had at least five,"said McHale, who blocked the ball three times in one sequence alone.
But more important than the statistics, McHale stepped in and instantly became a part of the pin-point passing, the power game inside, and the intimidating defense that is rapidly becoming the Celtics' trademark.
"I felt a little pressure," said McHale, "because Max wasn't there and we certainly didn't want to lose two games in a row. It wasn't that I was nervous, because I have been playing. Mostly, I wanted to do my thing - keep the ball alive on the boards, block a few shots and keep moving, whether I have the ball or not.
"I work very hard on it. I still have trouble shuffling my feet and coach (Bill) Fitch gets on me about it. But then he's not an easy man to please on most things. It's a lot different in the pros than it was in college. For one thing, the players up here are so much better. I could wait to block shots in college by standing in the middle. You can't do that here. You have to go after people."
Fitch, in fact, refused to put a lot of emphasis on McHale's performance except to say that the rookie forward did play well.
"Before a player is put into a starting position," said Fitch, "you don't really know how he's going to react. Now we know a couple of things. We know that he can blow layups, like he did on that one play. We know if we put him out there, he's capable of doing his job. That's what he did tonight with Max out. He did his job. But frankly, I'd rather not have to use him as a starter for that reason. I wish that Max was here."
Fitch, in fact, was more pleased with the Celtics' defense than he was with any individual, "because this was one of the games where our defense became our offense. Detroit has a very controlled offense and when you make mistakes they can get you. We made the big defensive plays back to back. The defense from (Chris) Ford, (Rick) Robey, (Robert) Parish and McHale in the last three quarters won the game for us."
Good defense usually spurs the Celtics. And with them having 12 blocked shots and 11 steals, the rejuvenated Pistons had trouble getting out of the block against the taller Boston team which dominated the inside.
In the words of Tiny Archibald, the Celtics simply "took it to them. When we have an advantage, like we did in Milwaukee, we can't just sit back. We didn't get started in that game until the final period and that is why we lost. The Pistons are a team that hustles and scraps, so we had to get them right away."
The Pistons never had much of a chance after falling behind in the opening minutes, 20-8. The Celtics ran pretty well, and when the fast break broke down, they succeeded at stuffing the ball inside where McHale, Parish and Robey were usually waiting.
"I don't want to be accused of blowing smoke at Bill Fitch," said Piston coach Scotty Robertson, "but the Celtics are so well coached and really a smart team. It's not just that McHale got his points. It's just that he was given the ball in the right position on passes from guys like Ford and Bird.
"The whole team is smart. It was as if they read us and pick us apart on both offense and defense. In fact, forget Detroit. Just compliment the Celtics on their defense and the way they passed to get their players the ball in the right spots. Remember, they missed a lot of shots. We've played well lately. But some nights you have to just admit that the other team has the horses."
For McHale, it wasn't a bad starting debut.
"I recall my first game starting," said Robey. "It was fun for me, and I know Kevin probably feels the same way. He's done a good job coming off the bench as a role player. Now he's gotten a chance to start, and he's really something with those long arms.
"My arms are 37 inches long and his reach is three inches longer than mine, not to mention the fact that he's got big hands. Parish knows that if he misses blocking a shot, both Max and Kevin might be there to back him up with those long arms. I can hardly wait until M. L. Carr comes back. His arms are just as long, and you'll really see some shot blocking."