C's Dump Hawks

Celtics Improve to 57-16
1981-82 Boston Celtics

The Boston Celtics were valid World Champions in victory. The Atlanta Hawks were noble in defeat. The Atlanta fans were sportsmen who came to see a basketball game and not to indulge in any extracurricular activities. A whole lot of people did themselves proud at the Omni last night.

What the capacity crowd of 15,700 had seen was a well-played NBA game in which a classy Celtics team made the most of its talented corps of big people, resulting in a 110-107 Boston triumph. It was a game replete with big plays and even bigger calls on the part of referees Jim Capers and Jake O'Donnell, and in the end it came down to which team sent the better man to the foul line in the clutch.

Boston's nominee was Larry Bird, who calmly broke a 107-107 deadlock by sinking two free throws with eight seconds left as atonement for having uncharacteristically missed two foul shots with 1:12 remaining and the Celtics ahead by two. Atlanta's less fortunate candidate was guard Eddie Johnson. He stepped to the line five seconds after Bird and missed his first shot. Coach Kevin Loughery called for a timeout, and when Johnson went back to the line he deliberately missed to the right side. Kevin McHale hauled in the rebound. The Gangly One would later add the game's final point after the final buzzer.

There is little doubt that the difference in this game was Bill Fitch's ability to rotate his trees. It hardly mattered which three of his four primary redwoods Fitch had on the floor. Witness, for example, the third period, when Bird (24 points) played but four minutes because of foul trouble and the Celtics still went from two down at the half (57-55) to six up after three periods (90-84).

And witness, as well, the final period. Fitch was able to scratch along without Robert Parish, who had already scored all his 22 points and who had already grabbed 16 of his game-high 18 rebounds. With Parish on the bench for almost six minutes, the Celtics still expanded the lead from three (99-96) to as many as seven (106-99) with 3:08 left.

As he's done whenever asked this season, Cedric Maxwell came through in a big way, scoring 22 points on 7-for-9 shooting that included some dazzling post-up work. The fourth major contributor up front, of course, was McHale, who stuck in 18 points, pulled in half his 10 rebounds in the final period and who ingested John Drew.

After getting off to a sensational shooting start (7 for 7, with every starter hitting at least once, and, eventually, 11 for 13), the Celtics succumbed to Atlanta's fine defense to shoot 9 for 30 in the final 15 minutes of the half. The Hawks, with Dan Roundfield accounting for 20 of his game-high 32 points before intermission, went up by as many as five (57-52) with six seconds to play in period two before Bird came up with a very big play, swishing a three-pointer at the
buzzer, his first home run since Feb. 7.

The third period was vital for the Celtics, as they took advantage of some poor Atlanta foul shooting (missing five straight in one stretch) and a late Parish burst (three field goals within 1:06 very late in the quarter) to grab the six-point lead. Both sides agreed that a particularly important fourth-period sequence came after a Hawk burst had narrowed a 10-point (95-85) Boston lead to three at 99-96. The Celts came out of a timeout huddle and ran a play for Bird, who drilled in a hand-in-the-face 21-footer from the left corner. "They run a special play," said Atlanta assistant coach Mike Fratello, "and we defense it very well. But a great player makes a great shot." Agreed Fitch, "we needed that cushion."

Two other key Celtics hoops were a 3-on-1 fast-break layup by Maxwell coming out of a Roundfield miss, a Bird rebound and a fatal Atlanta floor- balance foul-up, and a sensational follow-up fallaway by the invaluable McHale that made it 106-99. The Hawks didn't quit, and they pulled into the tie when Drew banked one in with 57 seconds left following Bird's free throw misses.

But perhaps the most important thing was that the game was played without incident, on or off the floor. This is one night the players probably should have given the fans a hand.

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