Used primarily as a power forward most of the season, McHale today spelled Robert Parish, the foul-plagued center, as the Celtics snapped the Bulls' 10-game winning streak and took a 1-0 lead in the semifinal round of the Eastern Conference playoffs.
The four-of-seven-game series resumes Tuesday in Boston, and then moves to Chicago for two games. Most damaging in the second and third periods, McHale, in 27 minutes, scored 21 points, blocked five shots and neutralized the center Artis Gilmore.
Expect the Unexpected
''We have a lot of respect for McHale,'' said Coach Jerry Sloan of Chicago. ''He's a heck of a player, but it's not the kind of a game you expect for a rookie's first playoff game.''
About an hour before the start of the game, McHale appeared to be in deep thought as he sat in the dressing room. ''Thinking about your first playoff game?'' someone asked McHale. ''I haven't done any deep thinking since my last history exam,'' McHale, who attended Minnesota, said with a smile.
M.L. Carr, who overheard the conversation, added: ''Kevin is not the kind of player to get the jitters about his first playoff game or anything else. He's a very relaxed, loose person.''
McHale saved all his intensity for the Bulls. In the second quarter he blocked shots by Dwight Jones, Larry Kenon and Gilmore during a four-and-a-half-minute span. He also scored 9 points and grabbed three rebounds in the period.
Repeated Rallies by Bulls
McHale's damaging play was not enough to stop the Bulls' repeated comebacks. Chicago, which trailed by 32-23 after the Celtics' shot 70 percent in the first period, came back to tie it at 50 with 1 minute 9 seconds left in the half. McHale then scored 4 points to give Boston a 54-52 lead at halftime.
The Bulls could not weather McHale's second outburst after he replaced Rick Robey with 5:42 remaining in the third period. Robey was having his problems with Gilmore, who had already scored half of his 18 points.
Just as McHale entered the game, Kenon's two free throws had given the Bulls a 70-67 advantage. With 2:47 left McHale drove the middle for a layup and completed the 3-point play after he had been fouled by Jones. He came up with another 3-pointer 31 seconds later, this time on a turnaround fallaway jumper after being fouled by Coby Dietrick. McHale also scored on a two-handed stuff. The Bulls were outscored, 14-4, during that stretch and trailed by 94-81 after three quarters. Larry Bird, with 13, and McHale had 21 of Boston's 40 fourth-quarter points.
Parish, who scored 17 points and grabbed nine rebounds in 24 minutes, replaced McHale early in the fourth. McHale was back three minutes later after Parish got his fifth foul.
The Celtics did not require that much from Parish today. Cedric Maxwell scored 13 points in the opening quarter and Bird, who concentrated on passing and rebounding in the first half, scored 17 of his 23 points in the second half. The Celtics were just too quick for the physical Bulls. Gilmore led the Bulls with 20 points, 12 in the third quarter. Dwight Jones had 17.
''People tend to make too much of the playoffs,'' McHale said afterward. ''Chicago was Chicago. The same people, the same plays. We beat them five out of six during regular season and we did it with the same plays. The only difference I found today was in the officiating. I think the refs allowed a little more bumping.''