The Boston Celtics, playing their big men in various combinations, overwhelmed the Knicks, 120-106, tonight before a capacity crowd of 15,320 at the Boston Garden.
Robert Parish, Kevin McHale, Rick Robey, Larry Bird and Cedric Maxwell came at the Knicks in droves as the Celtics won the eighth of their last nine games and improved their season mark to 15-6. Bill Fitch, the Celtic coach, used his big men two, three and four at a time and they had one aim: pass the ball inside for layups. And they succeeded.
In the second quarter, Fitch played four men 6 feet 9 inches or taller with Nate (Tiny) Archibald. The front line was Kevin McHale, 6-11; Rick Robey, 6-11, and Cedric Maxwell, 6-8. Larry Bird, 6-9, was in the backcourt. That group accounted for 73 points, with Bird getting 23 and McHale, the rookie out of Minnesota, scoring a career high of 20 points to go with 10 rebounds.
The Celtics outrebounded the Knicks, 56-31, including 16 offensive rebounds which they often turned into easy layups.
Too Tall for Knicks
''I think we are starting to put it all together now, '' said Robey. ''We're starting to know how to position ourselves and use our height to our best advantage. We're a very big team.
''We knew we could take advantage of their forwards because we were so much bigger and that's just what we did. When Bill Cartwright was playing the center, we ran at him. When they used him with Marvin Webster, we were just too quick for them.''
Of the big men, the Knicks were hurt most by McHale, who was 9 for 15 from the field in 22 minutes of playing time. He also blocked three shots and brought his season total to 45. He leads the National Basketball Association in that category for minutes played.
As McHale changed after the game, Red Auerbach, the Celtic president and general manager, smiled and said, ''How about that kid?. He's going to be something. If he were playing with any other team in this league, he would be a starter and a candidate for rookie of the year honors.''
Fitch, who overheard the conversation, said , ''This is the first time I have disagreed with Red since I came h ere. I don't think he could start for a lot teams, and I don't thin k he would be a rookie of the year candidate. Red wasn't in training at the beginning. Kevinis just starting to come into his own and lea rning what he can and can't do. Besides, I don't want to spoil him. I have to coach him andall Red will have to do is sign him again in four or five years.''
Making Up for Losses
The Celtics traded the first and 13th choices in last June's college draft to the Golden State Warriors for Parish and the No. 3 choice in the draft. They chose McHale on that pick. With Dave Cowens's retirement before the season and M.L. Carr's broken foot after the first seven games, the play of Parish and McHale has taken up the slack impressively.
Parish scored 17 points, hitting on seven of his 10 shots, grabbed 15 rebounds and with five blocked shots brought his season total to 59, third best in the league. He accomplished those statistics in 28 minutes of play. After scoring 10 points in the first period, Parish hurt his back and underwent heat treatments on the bench. Fitch used him sporatically thereafter.
The Knicks trailed, 62-61, at halftime. The Celtics began to put the game out of reach in the third period and midway in the final quarter led by 17 points.
During a 37-point third quarter that gave Boston a 99-86 advantage, the big men put on a passing, and scoring, show. Maxwell scored 11 points, including 9 in a row, and Bird and McHale each had 8.
''Boston played one hell of a game,'' said Holzman. '' They did a very good job off the boards, and they passed the ball very well, but you can only pass the ball well when the other team lets you and we did not play very well defensively tonight. We stayed with them for a half, and then they just seemed to run away with it.''
The Knicks, whose record dropped to 15-7, still are not playing together the way they did at the start of the season, when they won 12 of their first 16 games. Their passing game, which Michael Ray Richardson directs, seems to have disappeared. The had 23 assists; the Celtics had 36, including nine by Bird and eight by Archibald.
The Knicks went to Cartwright at the start of the game, and he scored two qu ick baskets. After that they seemed to forget about him.He took only four more shots for the half and 12 in the game, including one in the final quarter.
Why are you not getting the ball?, Cartwright was asked. ''That's a good question,'' he said, ''but I don't really have the answer. I know a lot more teams are doubling up on me than they did last season.''