The rap against the Boston Celtics as they try to repeat as NBA champions has been their lack of depth. Most of the season, Coach K.C. Jones has been relying on six players to get the job done.
They have been successful because they avoided injury and had their six men in good health.
It may be that Jones has more manpower than anyone expects. As the Celtics closed out their toughest trip of the season (six games in nine nights) Wednesday night at Denver, they were missing four players, including starters Cedric Maxwell and Robert Parish.
Only a fine performance by 15-year pro Dan Issel prevented the Celtics from winning.
Issel, 36, who will retire after this season, bade farewell to the Celtics by scoring six of his 22 points in the last three minutes to lead the Nuggets to a 132-129 victory. It was the Nuggets' 12th consecutive win at home and fifth in a row overall.
They overcame another excellent performance by Larry Bird to win the tight battle. Bird, playing all but two minutes, scored 40 points, and had 9 rebounds and 6 assists.
The Celtics, who also were without M.L. Carr and Quinn Buckner and lost Jones when he was ejected on technicals in the second period, made it a battle all the way. In fact, Bird and Kevin McHale actually had them in front by four points with four minutes left.
At this point, they seemed to run out of gas in the face of the sharpshooting of Issel and Calvin Natt.
For several minutes in the second quarter Jones had a lineup of Bird, Scott Wedman, Greg Kite, Carlos Clark and Rick Carlisle and still the Nuggets couldn't pull away.
Milwaukee 113, Detroit 112--The Bucks did such a good job of rebuilding that they seem assured of their sixth consecutive division title.
Paul Pressey and Terry Cummings, two reasons the Bucks were able to revamp the team without breaking stride, were the stars in this game at Pontiac, Mich. that built the Bucks lead in the Central Division to 6 1/2 games.
Pressey, who made the switch from guard to small forward in grand style, scored 24 points, while Cummings, obtained in the Marques Johnson trade, scored 14 of his 20 in the second half.
The Pistons, still without their two top forwards, Kelly Tripucka and Dan Roundfield, lost for the sixth time in the last eight games and have all but faded out of the battle for first.
Vinnie Johnson came off the bench to score 23 points. His three-pointer at the final buzzer made the final score closer than the game really was.
Washington 105, San Antonio 104--The Bullets' Dudley Bradley scored a three-point jumper with six seconds on the clock to beat the Spurs at the Hemisfair Arena in San Antonio, Tex.
A last-second jumper by San Antonio's Marc Iavaroni from the corner bounded off the back of the rim.
San Antonio's George Gervin led all scorers with 31 points--21 in the first half. Greg Ballard led the Bullets with 23, followed by Gus Williams with 21.
Philadelphia 137, Golden State 116--Moses Malone, virtually unopposed in the middle, had one of the biggest nights of a big career in this game at Philadelphia.
Malone scored 38 points and had 24 rebounds, 13 of them on the offensive boards, to lead the 76ers to an easy win over the hapless Warriors. Malone had 26 points and 14 rebounds in leading his team to a 68-57 lead at halftime.
Dallas 104, Portland 98--The Mavericks, trailing, 80-70 after three quarters at Dallas, held the Trail Blazers to two points in the first eight minutes of the last quarter. Meanwhile, Dale Ellis scored half of the 20 scored by the Mavericks in the eight minutes. Rolando Blackman, who finished with 36 points, scored six in the winning rally.
Cleveland 102, Indiana 92--World B. Free turned from ice cold to red hot in the second half at Indianapolis to bring the Cavaliers from behind.
Free scored only six points in the first half, but, with the Cavaliers trailing by 10 points in the third quarter, made six consecutive baskets and the Cavaliers won going away.
Utah 110, New Jersey 104--Thurl Bailey scored eight of his 24 points in overtime at East Rutherford, N. J. to lead the Jazz to only their eighth road win in 26 games.
Otis Birdsong hit a fadeaway jumper with 29 seconds in regulation to send the game into overtime, but the Nets faded in the extra session.
Houston 126, Phoenix 122--Ralph Sampson scored 8 points--including a game-winning stuff with 34 seconds left--in the fourth quarter at Phoenix to lead the Rockets to victory. The Suns, who led most of the game, were ahead, 93-89, after three quarters.