Rookie McHale Helps Cool Off Blazers (80-81)


January 5, 1981



The Celtics ended a highly successful perambulation through the highways, byways, airports, coffee shops and hostile arenas of America by hanging on grimly last night for a 120-111 triumph over the Portland Trail Blazers.

The Blazers had won 14 of their previous 16 games, but the home team was unable to contain a revived Larry Bird, a hot-shooting Tiny Archibald or an awesomely cool Kevin McHale, and the Celtics maintained their status as the only NBA team that has not lost two games in a row.

Bird came back from a horrendous 0-for-9 game in Oakland by scoring a game-high 33 points, the last three of which came on a deep left-corner, inside-out feed from McHale for a game-clinching three-pointer with 1:04 to play.

Archibald scored 25 points with a nice outside shooting display. McHale collected 19 points and scored a very big basket when he calmly dropped in a left-corner turnaround to give the Celtics, who had surrendered a 110-106 lead with 2:44 remaining in this very rugged contest. The Celtics were really sagging at this point, but McHale has become a man they can rely on for two points in the clutch.

The victory gave the Celtics a 5-1 record on the trip and sends them home to await the arrival of the Pacific Division-leading Phoenix Suns Wednesday night.

Bird pumped in 22 points on 10-for-15 shooting as the Celtics took a 63-55 halftime lead into the locker room.

Boston's quintet of Bird, Rick Robey, McHale, Chris Ford and Gerald Henderson enjoyed one particularly good spurt midway through the period, giving the Celts their biggest lead of the half, a 57-46 advantage with 2:56 left. But any chances of building up a big lead by halftime were thwarted by two good plays by Portland center Tom Owens, who hit a tough baseline fallaway and a leaning, banked three-point play on the next two Trail Blazer possessions.

Another key duo for Boston in the half was that of Archibald and McHale. The former had 13 points while the latter scored 10 points in the first half to go with two more blocked shots.

In the first half, the Celts shot a blistering 63 percent, mainly due to Bird's aforementioned 10 for 15 and Tiny's 6 for 8. Portland shot 49 percent, led by Owens' 4 for 4. A key man for the Blazers was dynamic guard Billy Ray Bates, who came off the bench to pop in 10 points.

Bird had wasted no time demonstrating that his Golden State performance was naught but an aberration as he connected on three jump shots in the first 1:08 of the game, and hit his first six shots before throwing an air ball on No. 7. But he was also abused by Mychal Thompson for 12 points at the other end. Their standoff was a microcosm of the game, as the teams finished the first period tied at 30-30.

Boston had controlled the game from the beginning, grabbing a quick 8-0 lead on the three Bird jumpers and one by Archibald, but Portland got itself back in later on with a run of eight straight in 2:09, grabbing a 27-26 lead on a Bob Gross fast-break layup.

Thompson was really crashing the boards for the Blazers, and his inspired play literally lifted the home team out of a fallow period that lasted for the first two minutes of the game. The Blazers began to benefit late in the period when the Celtics, who had been hitting from the outside in the form of Bird and Tiny, began to miss.

In the third quarter, Jim Paxson's desperation 40-footer banked home a hair ahead of the buzzer for a three-pointer that enabled the Blazers, badly outplayed over the final four minutes of the period, to go into the final 12 minutes trailing by nine (96-87) instead of a dozen. Ford missed a 20-footer with four seconds left, and Paxson took an outlet pass and dropped in the miracle shot.

The Celtics rode a hot streak to a 96-82 lead with 1:09 left in Period 3, forcing Dr. Jack Ramsay into a momentum-silencing timeout. Archibald was very hot from the outside, connecting on four jumpers as he built his total to 25 points, tying a season high with one period to play. The score was 88-82 with 2:41 left when the Celtics came up with eight unanswered points, capped by a Bird steal of a Bates pass that led to a Cedric Maxwell fast-break layup.

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