Celtics Back on Track with Win Over Bullets


Celtics Improve to 56-16
1981-82 Boston Celtics

For those who cannot remember, it was 20 games ago that the Celtics began trying a lineup that made starters out of M. L. Carr, Gerry Henderson and Kevin McHale. It was so long ago, that no one is now surprised to see Larry Bird come off the bench to score 35 points as he did last night in the 119-109 victory over the Washington Bullets.

No longer is it a big deal to see Tiny Archibald get eight assists - to go along with his 11 points from the field - in a supporting role against a tough club. Or to see Danny Ainge step in and perform so well that coach Bill Fitch gave both Chris Ford and Rick Robey their first DNP (did not play) of the season.

The change 20 games agowas forced by injurya and now it is making a world of difference to the Celtics, whose magic number is down to five. Fitch's new Celtics, who ran off an 18-game streak before losing to Philadelphia last Sunday, are playing harder than the old ones, and achieving even better results.

"Earlier in the year," said Bird, "We used to bring defense off the bench in Gerry, Kevin and M. L. Now both Tiny and I come in and try to pick things up, and we've had a lot of success. Tiny is out there to push the ball up and get assists. I'm out there to score points, or do whatever I think our team needs to help us at that point in the game. I don't think I learn all that much about the other team from being on the bench. But I do learn what I can do to help our club."

The help that Bird gave yesterday was magnificent. But, then, the same could be said for Archibald and even Ainge, who stayed in the game for 10 minutes because Fitch liked what he saw. The Celtics were in no mood to have a letdown after having their 18-game winning streak snapped. So they went after the Bullets, who had won four in a row until last night, and still have a solid chance to be among the six in the Eastern Conference playoffs.

The changing of the guard has been much smoother than had been predicted when Bird and Archibald were hurting in February. Carr has become an accomplished guard which, added to his potential as both a quick and power forward, makes him a triple threat. McHale as a starter blows hot and cold on offense. But anybody who dares challenge him as a shot blocker or doubts he can be a physical player is in for a rude awakening.

"I kind of like the idea of starting," said McHale. "How much longer it will last, I can't say. It doesn't really matter and besides, I don't make those decisions. What I like about it is that when we have a unit with myself, M. L., Gerry, Cedric (Maxwell) and Robert Parish, you have one that has plays great defense. I enjoy that. The combination of us starting and bringing Larry and Tiny off the bench gives the other club a lot to think about and adjust to."

Carr said playing guard this year is just one of many adjustments he has had to make.
"If Bill would ask me to go back to the bench tomorrow," he said, "it would be all right with me. I don't care what role I play on this team. I just want to play."

Archibald recently said that he is fully recovered from his injury and is using his time on the bench to gain valuable knowledge. "I think it helps in a way," said Archibald, "in that you get a chance to see what the other club is running. It allows you come into the game and try to run the things that you think will be successful. Some games my job is to push the ball up the floor. In others, I might have to shoot more."

Before the game, Fitch was concerned, for he considered the Bullets to be a difficult team to handle even though the Celtics have beaten them six straight times this year. "The most important thing on my mind," said Fitch, "was that after the streak was broken, we come out strong and win the next one. You lose this one, and it's two in a row, and I didn't want to go on the road like that. These are the dog days for players, with the end of the regular season coming up and then the playoffs. This time of year, you really have to watch yourstep. There is a full moon out every other night, and anything can happen. People have to realize that Washington is a very good basketball team, and a very good shooting team."

The Celtics simply never let up defensively after gaining the upper hand early.
"They're a club we might see again in the playoffs," says Parish."We had them down all season, and we'd like to keep them that way. If they came in and won, it would have helped their confidence. No way did we want to do that. We can't afford to
take any team for granted."

Bullets coach Gene Shue said his club simply had an off night after an emotional victory on Tuesday over Detroit. "That was the best game we played all year," said Shue. "I liked the idea of coming here after they had their streak broken. I thought they might suffer a letdown. But they didn't. They hurt us with their inside game. We usually shoot the ball better from the outside to compensate for it, but the shots weren't going in tonight."

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