Celtics Claim Victory in Game 113 of an 8 and a Half Month Season
You knew it was going to be a good year for the Celtics when a guy who once tried out for the team was elected mayor of Boston, and the venerable Red Auerbach announced that this would be his farewell cigar.
One of the absolutes of living in this region since the '50s has been that at least twice every decade, the Celtics reward local loyalty with a world championship.
And so it was that in the heat of the midnight hour, at the conclusion of the latest season in NBA history, the Celtics waved Flag No. 15 last night with a 111-102 victory over the estimable Los Angeles Lakers.
"I'll tell you what," said Celtics sixth man Kevin McHale. "If you looked in everybody's eyes before the game, you knew we would win out with will and determination . . . It was will. We wanted it more than they did."
It was the 113th game of an 8 1/2-month season, a campaign that captured the heads and hearts of New Englanders as never before. The Celtics have won 54 percent of NBA crowns since 1957 (15 of 28), but none of the previous paths to paydirt inspired the fervor and fires of this one.
"This is sweeter than our first championship (vs. Houston in 1981), because we beat a team that is equal to us," said Cedric Maxwell, who was heroic in the finale with 24 points, 8 rebounds and 8 assists.
Larry Bird (20 points, 12 rebounds) was the consensus series MVP, but in Game 7, Max was The Man.
Maxwell: "Before the game, I said, Well boys, one more time. Just hop on my back, and I'll take you on it.' I've always been a big-game player, and tonight was a big game."
After seven early lead changes, the Celtics went ahead for good in the first minute of the second quarter. The ubiquitous Maxwell scored 17 in a stellar first half that ended with the Celtics bolting to a 58-52 lead.
LA closed to within one midway through the third, and Boston's lead was only 82-78 with 2:44 left in the period. Then green lightning struck. With Bird sitting on the pine, the Celtics closed the quarter with a 9-0 run that pushed the home team to a 91-78 lead and rocked the steamy (90-degree) Garden. The Celtics had outscored the Lakers, 19-6, in 6:43.
The crucial run came following a basket by Jamaal Wilkes. After Henderson rebounded his own miss, McHale started the run with a 16-foot jumper. Robert Parish (16 rebounds and one final defensive gem) rebounded a Michael Cooper miss, and Danny Ainge hit a 20-foot jumper. Then McHale rebounded an errant shot by Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (29 points), and Parish hit a free throw after being fouled on a followup of his own shot. Maxwell slapped away a James Worthy pass. Parish was fouled (on a third shot) by Wilkes and hit two more free throws. Henderson rebounded a Kareem miss, and McHale closed the quarter with a pair of foul shots.
The Celtics were jumping all over each other when the period ended, Bird leading the cheers with M.L. Carr and Co.
"It didn't make me mad not to be in there," said Bird, who hit only 6 of 18 shots. "K.C. (Jones) did a great job letting Max and Kevin work 'em over down low."
The gallant Lakers would not fold, however. A series that will be ranked with the NBA's best could not close with a blowout.
After DJ (22 points) hit two free throws to give the Celtics their biggest lead (99-85 with 7:58 left), Kareem, Magic and Cooper led the Lakers back to within three points - plus possession of the basketball.
The Celtics could have panicked when their lead wilted to 105-102 with less than a minute to go. Not this year.
"I wasn't worried," Bird said. "When you got the lead in the fourth quarter, it shouldn't bother you. That's when teams choke up; but as long as you have the lead, you should be OK."
LA's last chance to close to within one point ended when Parish blocked an off-balance Magic drive with 50 seconds left. DJ got the ball and was fouled as he attempted a layup. He made both, and the Lakers, trailing by 107-102 with 45 seconds left, called time. Crowd control became a problem from that point on.
After the pause, McHale got the rebound of a second shot by LA and kicked it upcourt. Bird was fouled with 26 seconds left and made both. That sealed it. A pair of free throws by Bird set the final score.
Lakers coach Pat Riley conceded, "I think they are the better team. They don't have the same kind of talent we have. They have equal talent, but it's made differently. In a game decided by aggressiveness and rebounding, their talent is better than ours. We have to hope our quickness gets the better of their size, and it did for a while, about 3 1/2 games. Then their size and power started to take control."
Celtic glory was spread around like one cold beer among friends. Parish kept grabbing big rebounds. He finished with 16, scored nine points on second shots and accounted for four more by his teammates. Meanwhile, heroic Max was everywhere, DJ looked like the former playoff MVP he is, and Bird was the Hoosier Hoop Hosanna you've come to know and love.
The seeds of victory were planted in the first half as Boston outhustled and outrebounded (26-16) LA. The Celtics outrebounded the Lakers, 14-6, in the crucial third, and by game's end, the rebounding score was Boston 52, LA 33. That explains how a team can win by seven when it shoots 39.5 percent and scores three baskets in the final quarter.
It took the Celtics only 13 minutes to establish their lead for keeps. There were six lead changes in the first quarter, which ended at 30-30. LA made 11 of 18 shots in the period, and the Celtics hit 11 of 22.
Tied, ahead or behind, Maxwell never lost control of the night. He taunted Worthy mercilessly and kept the Celtics in charge. "I just told him he couldn't guard me," said Max. "I said, James, this isn't the 2-A league. This is the big time, and you have to guard me.' "
LA tied it at the end of the first on a three-pointer from the left corner by Cooper, then took a 32-30 lead when Worthy scored to start the second.
The Celtics took the lead for good with eight straight: two free throws and a drive by Bird, a Quinn Buckner layup off the break and a perfect give- and-go basket by Ainge off a Bird feed.
A rugged three-point play by Maxwell gave the Celtics a 47-38 lead with 7:42 left in the half. By that time, little-used Mitch Kupchak was in the LA pivot, Kurt Rambis had three fouls, and the Lakers were looking shaky. They weren't helped when Worthy tossed up an air ball from the free throw line.
There was no question about Boston's state of mind.
"We have character, courage, poise," said Maxwell. "We have it all."
They have it all - including a 15th championship flag.
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