C's Down Bullets, Post 4th Straight Win

1983-84 Boston Celtics
Celtics 120, Bullets 117
Record: 4-1


NBA teams hate playing here. It's like putting up the storm windows, rotating your tires or cleaning the oven. It's a tough job and you know it can be done, but some days you just don't feel like working that hard. Last night, the Celtics worked. They ran. They pressed. They reduced the feared Beef Brothers (Jeff Ruland and Rick Mahorn) to a dried up heap of Beef Jerky. With dogged determination and an effective game plan, Boston built a 22-point fourth-quarter lead before letting the Bullets roar back to within striking distance.

No problem. When the buzzer finally sounded, the Celtics were 120-117 winners. It was Boston's fourth-straight victory and elevated the Celtics to their rightful place - tied for first with the Philadelphia 76ers. If the NBA is anything, it's predictble. Most teams are only five games into the season, and already the Atlantic Division is in order. Beating the Bullets has to be K.C. Jones' proudest moment of the early season. After all, this is where Jones was unceremoniously dumped after compiling a .630 winning percentage as head coach. And need we mention that the Bullets smoked the Celtics three times in six tries last year, including twice in three games at the Capital Centre?

For three quarters, it looked like the Celtics were finally going to get a breather in suburban Maryland's chamber of horrors. The Celtics shot a scalding 66 percent (27-41) in the first half while shutting down foul-plagued Mahorn (zero points and one rebound) and Ruland (six points and four rebounds). Washington's Ricky Sobers (20 points) opened the evening's scoring with a jumper from out top. The basket broke a week-long Celtic streak: In victories over Cleveland, Milwaukee and Indiana, Boston had never been behind.

The deficit didn't last. Cedric Maxwell (19 points) posted up for two, and when Larry Bird (28 points, 8 rebounds, 9 assists) followed with a jumper from the right corner, the Celtics went ahead to stay. Boston led, 12-6, when Mahorn picked up his third personal foul. He was replaced by Tom McMillen while the Celtics were in the middle of a 10-0 run that produced an 18-6 lead. Gerald Henderson (10 of his 16 in the first quarter) scored 6 of the 10 on a drive, a fastbreak layup and a jumper from the left corner. Bird capped the spurt with a fallaway from out top, his fourth consecutive conversion.

"In the first half, we got our offense going and we played good defense," said Bird. "The shots were falling for Robert (Parish) and me, but everybody did the job on the offensive end." The Celtics led, 32-23, after one. Washington cut it to seven briefly in the second quarter, but after Bullets coach Gene Shue called time with the Celtics leading, 47-32, Boston ripped off eight straight points to take a whopping 55-32 lead with five minutes left in the half.

Ruland still hadn't scored. He broke up his shutout with two minutes left in the half, but it would prove to be too late for the Bullets. Parish and Bird each had hit seven of nine floor shots in the half and Boston led, 65-48, at intermission. The margin was 20 (97-77) after three and 22 when Scott Wedman opened the fourth period with a basket. Sobers and Mahorn led an 8-0 run to cut the Bullet deficit back to 14. Then Washington rookie Jeff Malone (11 for 19, 24 points) went into his Andrew Toney imitation and got some help from Greg Ballard (14). The Celts supplied the rest of the help by standing around under the basket and missing six of seven free throws during a crucial stretch.

"Our guards weren't hitting the shots," said Jones. "We got in foul trouble and Malone started hitting, and they got back in the ballgame." "They're a tough team to go lights out on," added Kevin McHale (15), who hit a crucial turnaround as he was fouled by Mahorn with 1:06 left. He made the free throw to give the Celtics a 116-108 lead. That was enough. "They are a very stubborn ballclub," said a sore Parish. "They are physical and present problems for us inside." True, but last night Parish, Maxwell, Bird and McHale combined for 85 points while Mahorn was held to six and Ruland scored only 13.

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