C's Nip Knicks

Celtics Improve to 44-15
1981-82 Boston Celtics

Before anyone writes up Danny Ainge's Hall of Fame nomination petition, before we rename the bottom 24 square feet of the foul lane Cedric Maxwell boulevard, before we formally declare Robert Parish for pivot sainthood, and before we beg Harry Mangurian to sign Kevin McHale to a 17-year contract lest he ever do the nasty things to the Celtics that he now does to other folks, let us step back for a moment and state the real reason the defending champeens have won their last seven games in succession, with or without Tiny Archibald and Larry Bird.

The Celtics have gone back to basics. It's that simple.

Yesterday's crowd-pleasing 107-106 triumph over the Knicks will certainly be remembered by the 56th consecutive Garden capacity gathering of 15,320 as the first local showcase of Ainge's immense skills, as well it should. But if you really want to know why the Celtics have been winning lately, consider that in defeating Houston and New York (the Knicks on a good day, incidentally), they have had more steals (24) than turnovers (23) and that they have won despite shooting 43 percent from the floor in each game. They have made up for the shooting deficiency by assaulting the offensive boards and by playing sound defense, particularly at those moments when it has been imperative to do so.

They did come very close to giving this game away, allowing a 105-98 lead with 1:04 left (thanks to Ainge's fifth steal of the final period and subsequent fast break layup) to dwindle into a 105-103 advantage with 20 seconds remaining. "For a while," said Bill Fitch, "New York stayed around to see if they could win. Then they stayed around to see if we were going to give them a Christmas present." Before wrapping up this game, the coach agonized as Ainge made a big rookie mistake and both Maxwell (11 seconds left) and Carr (two seconds) missed the first and made the second of two foul shots to give the Celtics a 107-103 lead. Randy Smith's desperation 40-footer banked in at the buzzer to create the final score.

That 105-98 lead represented Boston's largest margin of a well-played, highly entertaining game, and it was entirely appropriate that Ainge had made the big play, since he had been making things happen all afternoon en route to a 28-minute, 16-point (including two three-pointers), 7-assist stat line. The Ainge theft from Campy Russell (one of the latter's seven turnovers) and subsequent driving layup capped a run of six straight points following a Smith 15-footer that had brought the Knicks within one at 99-98 with 2:19 remaining.

The Boston push had begun on a fortuitous note when Parish stuck in a short third-chance followup after Marvin Webster blocked a pair of McHale shots. Ainge, who managed to steal passes, dribbles and hearts in a dazzling performance, promptly relieved Smith of the ball, amidst enough Garden noise to disturb a seance in Pepperell. That was bad enough for the Knicks, but when Parish just beat the 24-second clock with a 20-foot moon shot after a good New York defensive set, the visitors had to figure that the Hoop God was simply in an avenging mood. Ainge followed that basket with his big play on Smith, leaving the Knicks seven down with 1:04 remaining.

New York had some fight left, however. Smith (18 points) stuck in a tough corner jumper, and when Ainge air-balled a foolish shot from the right (an impetuous rookie move with a good 12 seconds left on the 24-second clock), New York regained possession with 34 seconds remaining. Fourteen seconds later, Russell swished a three-pointer to bring New York within two, 105-103.

There was plenty of theater left, for after Maxwell's free throw at the 11-second mark, the dangerous Russell was able to launch two more three-point attempts. Maxwell deflected the first one, but Smith grabbed the rebound and fired out to an unguarded Russell for a second chance. This one bounced off the rim, and Sly Williams had to foul Carr after the rebound. M.L. hit his second shot to clinch the game.

The fans should have been satisfied. They had witnessed Ainge's first local heroics, had witnessed the continued frontcourt excellence of Messrs. Parish, McHale (despite foul trouble) and Maxwell (14 more free throw attempts, giving him 66 in his last five games), had viewed a solid relief job by Rick Robey (11 points as a forward in 16 minutes) and had oohed and aahed throughout a spectacular 22-point, 13-rebound, 10-for-11 show by New York's Maurice Lucas. Moreover, they had seen a thoroughly competitive game that wasn't decided until the final two seconds.

Presumably, nobody would ever complain about not seeing a Bird or an Archibald after seeing the class act that is the present Celtics' team.

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