CELTICS PUT ON STEAM, SEAL 8TH STRAIGHT WIN
This game took longer to end than "Gone With The Wind." But sometime before midnight Gerald Henderson streaked away with the last steal of the game to seal a 136-128 Celtic triumph over the Denver Nuggets at the Garden last night.
The resilient Nuggets would not quit, making the Celtics struggle until the final 34 seconds, or until Glen Gondrezick was unable to get the ball in play from midcourt, and thus was assessed for a damaging five-second violation. The Celtics, who had led by a 130-119 count with 1:42 left, were only ahead by five (130-125) at the time, thanks to some dumb plays and more of Denver's hustle.
After the Denver transgression, Boston was able to work the ball around until Cedric Maxwell drew a foul with 14 seconds to play. He dropped both shots in. In keeping with the general tenor of this game, however, Denver's Kenny Higgs banked in a three-pointer to reduce the margin to four at 132-128. Two Tiny Archibald free throws with two seconds to play preceded Henderson's buzzer-beater.
The Celtics pulled out their eighth consecutive victory by virtue of a 14-2 spurt that opened the second half and turned a 64-63 halftime Denver lead into a 77-66 Celtic lead. The closest Denver would come again was three, at 114-111, with 6:23 left, and when they did Boston scored six straight to increase the lead.
Maxwell (29) and Archibald (24) each had season highs in this wild and frequently sloppy game. The score should come as no surprise, for on the first three games of their current four-game road trip the Nuggets have been outscored by an average margin of 128-121.
Alex English's tap-in with two seconds left in the half provided the Nuggets with a 64-63 haltime lead in a wild half of shifting momentum.
The Celtics, who trailed by nine points at 60-51 with exactly three minutes remaining, had capped a rousing comeback when Larry Bird canned a 20- footer from the right with 14 seconds to play. Boston, which had been continually outhustled by the Denver team, had finally come to life behind the shot-blocking of Robert Parish and the offensive board work of Maxwell to outscore the visitors by a 12-2 count.
It took the Celtics about 14 minutes to realize that Denver had not come here solely for the purpose of being Boston's 15th Garden victim of the season. From the first moment, when T.R. Dunn outwrestled Bird for the opening tap and went in for a layup, until the last-second tap-in by English, Denver forced the action in this fast-paced game.
This was a classic back-and-forth contest. The Nuggets led early at 6-1. Boston regrouped to go up by seven at 21-14. The Nuggets came back to go ahead by a 23-21 score. The Celtics led, 32-31, after one (Bird and Parish scoring 10 apiece), but Denver spurted into a 37-34 lead. And on and on it went.
It would be impossible to catalog all the steals, turnovers and great shots, but the unquestioned artistic highlight of the half came at 37-36, Denver, when Kevin McHale made two blocks on the same Nugget possession (Gondrezick and David Thompson) and then hustled downcourt for a fast-break three-point play. That play propelled the Celts into a 45-39 lead, but it wasn't too long before Dan Issel led the Nuggets on a charge that peaked with the aforementioned 60-51 lead.
The hardest working man in the building had to be Denver coach Doug Moe, who never once sat down, never once stopped encouraging his team and never once allowed a player of his to get tired. He substituted masterfully, giving Bill Fitch no choice but to follow suit in order to maintain the game's furious pace.-
Chris Ford had every expectation of tending to business last evening, even though he was operating at less than 100 percent capacity because of a bruised left shoulder. He sustained the injury Saturday when he was the recipient of what he viewed as a non-accidental elbow delivered by Cleveland guard Mike Bratz. Ford had never missed a game because of injury since entering the league in 1972.
M.L. Carr will not be making the upcoming post-Christmas trip, so Fitch will be taking a 10-man team on the five-game jaunt that begins Saturday in Atlanta and continues with games in Phoenix, San Diego, Oakland and Portland. That's because Fitch won't be taking both Wayne Kreklow and Terry Duerod. The latter's second 10-day contract expires tomorrow, and he cannot be signed to another. Any subsequent contracts must be standard player contracts.
Therefore, Fitch and Red Auerbach must decide between a Kreklow, who has been a part of the group from the beginning, but who is shooting a dismal 24 percent, and a Duerod, who is a newcomer, but who scored 20 points in 18 minutes of play since joining the team. Look for Carr to attempt his comeback after the team's return from the Coast.