The season's opening weekend certainly served as a humbling tour through two of the garden sites of NBA America, but the highly-touted Celtics averted complete embarrassment by salvaging a 105-100 roller derby victory over the Cleveland Cavaliers last night.
It wasn't easy or pretty, and hardly atoned for Friday's giveaway in the swamps of Jersey, but the sloppy Celtics were glad to have a victory. Living with an 0-2 record between now and Wednesday's home opener would have meant four days of public purgatory.
As the Celtics learned in four painful play-off games last spring, the Cavs are no longer a laughing matter. Boston had to contend with 48 minutes of rocketman Roy Hinson and all-beef Mark West, not to mention World B. Free and a sellout (20,900) crowd in Ohio's den of din. The Celtics made it tougher than it had to be by turning the ball over early, and missing too many free throws.
Boston trailed by four after one, and by one at the half, but rode Larry Bird's nine third-quarter points to an 84-77 lead at the end of three. The Celtics opened up an 11-point lead midway through the final period and hung on for their first victory of the 1985-86 season.
We Are the World exploded for 14 in the first period as the Cavs bolted to a 29-25 lead. Boston made only eight of 23 shots and committed seven turnovers in the period. It was a disturbing start for the Celtics, who committed 28 turnovers Friday.
Trailing, 10-6, Cleveland went to a full-court zone press and ran off seven in a row - six by Free. The Celtics saw a lot more of the press throughout the night.
Robert Parish had 11 in the first quarter, but Bird still wasn't scoring. He made a bomb in the first minute, but missed a pair of inside shots and showed more signs of back discomfort. He dribbled high off the floor, shot poorly, and appeared unable to employ some of his inside moves. Cleveland relied on its backcourt - twin hydrants Free and John Bagley - for all of its early offense. The Cavalier guards scored 18 of Cleveland's first 21 points.
Sly Williams, who was not used in Friday's overtime loss, was the first Celtic sub to enter the game. Red Auerbach loves Sly and it was unlikely that K. C. Jones would keep the veteran forward on the bench two nights in a row. Jerry Sichting and Bill Walton were also in the game when the first period ended, with Cleveland leading, 30-25. Sam Vincent made his Celtic debut at the start of the second period (his first/only NBA shot was blocked by Roy Hinson). Jones had Bird on the floor with Boston's four new subs and the shock troops opened the period with an 11-4 run to put Boston ahead.
When the starters came back, Kevin McHale scored 12 points in seven minutes, but the Celtics still trailed by one, 55-54, at halftime. Bird, Parish and Danny Ainge led the Celtics to a five-point lead early in the third. A late run by Bird and McHale gave Boston an eight-point lead and the Celtics settled for an 84-77 margin at the end of three.
With Bird on the bench, Sly (0-4 in the first half) got a chance to redeem himself at the start of the fourth. He hit a pair of free throws and a baseline jumper to give Boston a 90-81 lead and force Cavalier coach George Karl to call time with 8:57 left. A pair of jumpers by Sichting made it 94-84 when Bird returned with six and a half minutes left. The Cavs crumbled, missing often from the line, and Boston opened up an 11- point lead with five minutes to play. It was sloppy the rest of the way and the Celts didn't get into the comfort zone until a Danny Ainge jumper put them ahead by ten with three minutes left.
Hinson hates losing to the Celtics. "They are really arrogant, and when they win, they get more arrogant," said the Cav forward. "We needed to come out and kick their butts. Instead, we let them kick ours."
The Celtics had 28 turnovers in Friday's overtime loss in Jersey, but cut that number in half while beating the Cavaliers Saturday night. Boston's aggregate shooting percentage was .447 (76 for 170). Larry Bird had a triple-double Friday (21 points, 12 rebounds, 10 assists), but made only 36 percent (11 for 31) of his shots in the first two games. Dennis Johnson clanged the rims to the tune of 36 percent (8 for 22), as Boston's guards combined to shoot 39 percent (24 for 61).
Bird committed 10 turnovers in the two games, while DJ committed 8. Bill Walton had seven giveaways Friday, but only one Saturday. Walton made up for some of his turnovers by hitting 5 of 7 shots and snatching 12 rebounds in 42 minutes. Jerry Sichting averaged 23.5 minutes and six points in the third- guard role. Jones raves about Walton's enthusiasm and thinks Williams has a good attitude. "I didn't use him Friday," said Jones, "but his reaction was to make a little joke about it and then go out and do a great job the next night."
Boston was outrebounded, 52-43, by the Nets but came back to dominate the boards, 54-40, against Cleveland. McHale's rebounding total went from two to 15. The Celtics shouldn't be outrebounded very often. They have four players who averaged eight or more rebounds last season. No other NBA team has three players who averaged eight rebounds in 1984-85.