CELTICS OVERTAKE BULLETS, 101-99
The word is confidence. It is oozing from the Celtics these days. It is turning young Kevin McHale from a raw rookie into that rare breed of NBA player who is fearless when everything is on the line.
The word is confidence. It enables the Celtics to exploit teams like the Bullets, who blew a 14-point lead and wound up on the short end of a 101-99 score last night at the Capital Centre. It is that intangible that makes Boston a force on either end of the floor.
"We're right back where we should be," said coach Bill Fitch after his Celtics gained revenge for Sunday's loss in Hartford. "Thinking that nobody is going to beat us in a close game."
Nobody is going to beat the Celtics as long as they continue to overcome any offensive shortcomings with a stingy and inspired defense.
"We played with intelligence and made some key shots down the stretch," said Fitch. "But the thing that got us back into the game and won it for us was defense."
It would be difficult to overstate the role young McHale played last night. He came off the bench and scored 10 points, none more important than his last four, which came on jumpers in the last 1:12. It was McHale's 16- footer with 1:12 left that created a 97-97 tie. After a steal by Larry Bird and a driving layup with 53 seconds left, it was another turnaround jumper by McHale that swished through for a 101-97 lead that stood up through the final 10 seconds.
McHale, Robert Parish and Tiny Archibald talked about playing to the utmost of their abilities, but making sure to blend in with the Celtics' overall flow.
"I think the thing you like about Kevin," said Parish, "is that he knows what is expected of him on both offense and defense. He's had the confidence on defense all along. But now, he's setting up and shooting from 8-10 feet, where he has a lot of confidence."
The Celtics' confidence was shown in several ways during the fourth quarter. Boston had shot just 26 percent (4 for 15) in the third quarter, and the only reason the Celtics didn't trail by 14 points after three periods was Larry Bird's three-pointer with three seconds left.
While that didn't immediately turn the tide, it meant a possible blowout had become a respectable game once again. And suddenly after a 15-4 spurt, it was an 87-87 ballgame.
"We knew we had to tighten up on the defense," said Archibald. "There wasn't that much you could do about Elvin Hayes. He's going to get his points. But we had trouble at Hartford because of their guards and the fact that they dominated the boards. We were stronger off the boards tonight. When Kevin Porter came back, I just tried to keep him further out from the basket than he was the other night."
And Archibald did something else which got scant mention in the post-game jubilation. Washington had a 93-87 lead with four minutes left, and the game was seemingly under control if it played stingy defense. But Chris Ford sank an important basket off a rebound, and Archibald followed with two straight full-court excursions for layups. The Bullets were caught napping, and they saw the game tied on McHale's block of a Kevin Grevey shot, a fast break and a stuff shot by Bird.
Archibald said he was only waiting for the proper time to do his thing, and it arrived twice in crucial parts of the game.
"The first time," said Archibald, "I think Porter figured we were going to a set play we call safety. He was setting up and the middle was wide open. I took it. On the second, I was heading up the left side and the middle was open on the right. So I took it again."
And the Celtics "took" one from the Bullets, who, after holding Boston to 15 points in the third quarter, scored only 16 themselves in the final period.
"We stopped doing what we were doing to get ahead," lamented Washington forward Greg Ballard. We were running in the third period and tried setting up in the fourth."