Celtics Rally Falls Short

Celtics Rally Falls Short
Celtics Drop to 61-18
1981-82 Boston Celtics

Just call this one a high-priced exhibition game that managed to send the smallest crowd witnessing a Celtics regular season game this season home with a twin treat.

Treat No. 1 was a 120-115 Bulls' triumph over the Celtics. Treat No. 2 was a Homeric performance by Larry Bird, who played as if the NBA championship, a hundred million dollars and eternal bragging rights in the town of French Lick were at stake with a 35-point, 17-rebound display that almost produced a victory the Celtics as a team didn't really deserve.

Indeed, it nearly seemed as if the Hoop God had switched sides in the final 20 seconds of the game. The game itself had belonged to Chicago since the middle of the first period, but when Bird, a 29-point second half scorer, first connected on a incredible three-pointer in traffic with 16 seconds left to make it 118-112, Chicago, and then hit Gerry Henderson in the right corner for another three-pointer 11 seconds later, the Celtics were still alive. Following a time out it took a pair of free throws by Ronnie Lester to preserve the victory.

That this was naught but a glorified exhibition was admitted by Fitch when the game was over. He had indicated his position on this game by again resting Robert Parish for the duration and by giving rookie Charles Bradley his first NBA start. He shuttled people in and out (with the notable exception of Bird, who played 45 minutes, his longest stint since the Washington OT back on March 16) continually. And he concluded by saying, "We are in a situation similar to the late stages of the exhibition season. Staying in shape and making sure nobody gets hurt are our biggest concerns."

Having said that, Fitch stressed that he expected the people out on the floor to do their best to win. "We played enough (key) people so that if we'd have done things right we would have won. I always had two or three regulars on the floor. The Bulls got a good win tonight."

You can bet your autographed picture of Willie Williams that if this game had meant somethingthe Celtics would not have yielded the embarrassing total of 13 Chicago dunks. Players such as David Greenwood (25 on 11-for-19 shooting) and Orlando Woolridge (19 on 9-for-16) benefitted from an extended pre-game layup drill, either because the Celtics failed to execute their normally sound interior defensive game or because the Celtics were too often lax in basic offense-to-defense transition.

After allowing Chicago checkpoint leads of 33-22 and 65-55, Boston rallied behind Bird to charge within two on a pair of third quarter occasions, including an 81-79 incursion with 3:25 remaining. The Celtics also closed to within three at both 97-94 (6:50 remaining in the game) and 108-105 (1:57). This incursion resulted from two Bird free throws followed by a Bird steal of an outlet pass and crashing dunk. But when Ricky Sobers was forced into a heave on the next Chicago possession, Dwight Jones slipped inside for a valuable follow-up. "That," said Chicago coach Rod Thorn, "was a big, big basket when we were going south."

Bird had 29 points and eight traffic rebounds in the second half as Fitch gave him extended playing time. "I left him out there because of the conditioning factor," Fitch explained. "It's been a while since he's played that long and it's important he get used to those minutes again. He got his second wind when he got tired tonight."

Bird knew what was going on, and he appreciated it. "When I got going I felt pretty good tonight," he said, "but my defense was a little sluggish and that hurt us tonight. They had too many easy baskets inside."

The announced crowd of 8746 (if anything, it was larger) had enough to cheer about watching the Bulls run for 22 fast-break points and pick up an additional 16 on second shots against the world champions. But they had to appreciate the scintillating Boston effort in the third period, when Bird fueled a brief Celtic comeback, if only because it gave their heroes a chance to go out and win the game again.

The Celtis are fighting limited wars these days. They've still got the weapons stockpiled, all right. Fitch just figures that if he can win a few with a bow-and-arrow attack it's his prerogative. That's what clinching early is all about.

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