There are nights when Kevin McHale is the ultimate weapon, a Nike Ajax missile interjected into conventional warfare. As he has done so many times since he decided not to eat spaghetti in 1980, McHale took over a game for the Celtics last night. He scored eight straight and 10 of 12 in a devestating, 18-4 fourth-quarter Celtics run that turned a two-point Boston deficit into a 12-point lead.
When it was over, Boston had a 129-115 victory, and Mchale had 30 points and 16 rebounds. Thirteen of McHale's season-high total came in fourth-period crunch time. He has scored 107 points in four games against the Pistons this year. "He's a big problem for us, obviously," said Pistons center Bill Laimbeer (27 points, 15 rebounds). "He destroys us every time we play them. He has that good jump hook, which is difficult to block, and a fallaway that you can't even get close to."
Boston had a small lead through most of the night, but Kelly Tripucka (26), Laimbeer and Isiah Thomas (16 points, 12 assists) brought the Silver Bullet Band back, and the game was tied six times in the first six minutes of the fourth period. The last tie was at 103. Then came McHale's vaporization job on the Pistons. First, he scored over Kent Benson to put the Celts ahead (105-103) for good. Then he rebounded at the defensive end, came back down and hooked over Benson. After a basket by John Long, McHale buried a hook and a fallaway to make it 111-105.
Long cut the Celtics' lead to four with one last bomb, but Parish (a not- so-incidental 24 points and 19 rebounds) answered with a turnaround. Then McHale rebounded a Tripucka miss and canned another turnaround make it 115-107. That sent 24,318 out into the Michigan's chilly suburban tundra, although most of them will be back today to see if Billy Simms can run the Lions into the National Football League playoffs. The Pistons, meanwhile, will try to devise a way to stop Mchale before the teams meet again. Benson was humiliated last night; Detroit coach Chuck Daly would have been better off with George Benson at center. When Kent was mercifully excused, Laimbeer moved over to guard McHale, but that left 6-7 Terry Tyler on Parish.
"Over the night, we probably had five or six different guys on him," Pistons coach Chuck Daly said with a sigh. "He gets it so easy, and we have to work hard for those same things." "I got the ball in good position," said McHale, who had 16 of the Celtics' whopping 68 rebounds (tops in the league this year). "Sometimes you're up against a guy you feel you can score on, but when you get it going, you feel like it doesn't make any difference who's on you." "Credit their defense, too," added Daly. "They toughened their defense at the end, and we did not get good shots."
The Celts held Detroit to 22 points and 30-percent shooting (8-27) in the fourth quarter. Remember, these were the same Pinball Pistons who came out on top in Tuesday's historic 186-184 triple-overtime shootout in Denver. Celtics fans might also be encouraged to note that the victory came on a night when Larry Bird was struggling through one of his Silverdome nightmares. Starting his second game since his knee injury, Bird made only 5 of 18 shots, although he (naturally) contributed 10 rebounds and nine assists.
Parish sparked an early 10-3 run that helped Boston to a 22-15 lead in the first quarter. The Celtics got a lot of second shots, dominated the boards (20-12 in the quarter), and led, 35-34, after one. The Celtics pushed their margin to 48-40 midway through the second, but Laimbeer and Triucka brought the Piston back, and Long delivered a game-tying (56-56) jam with three minutes left in the half. Gerald Henderson (20 points) got the running game going, and three fastbreak baskets gave Boston a 67-64 halftime lead.
Bird was 3-9 at intermission and missed three straight to start the third. Meanwhile, Isiah Thomas was taking advantage, scoring two baskets and handing out four assists to lead a 14-10 run in the first five minutes of the second half. Later, the Celtics got a little careless with the ball, and Detroit ran off six in a row to take an 87-80 lead with 4:22 left in the third. But Boston tightened its defense, took advantage of Earl Cureton (in for Laimbeer), and scored nine straight. Detroit answered with four straight at the end of the period and led, 93-91, at the end of three. At the start of the fourth, Tripucka scored Detroit's first eight points as the teams traded baskets. With 7:05 left, referee Earl Strom (remember him?) tagged Cedric Maxwell with his sixth personal foul. It didn't matter. K.C. Jones still had McHale. Against Detroit, that's all he needs.