BOSTON — This business of waiting days between the start of playoff series has been tedious for the Boston Celtics, who spent the last week monitoring the Milwaukee-Philadelphia series on television and somehow trying to stay motivated in practice.
"I've watched so many games on television lately it feels like we've been eliminated already," Larry Bird said Monday. "We're getting stale. You know, the weather lately has been bad. It's gloomy out. Everybody on the team just seems to be going through the motions. We need something to wake us up."
That should happen tonight at the Boston Garden when the Celtics, who concluded their previous series last Tuesday, finally begin the NBA Eastern Conference final against the Bucks, who finished off Philadelphia Sunday.
But, as Bird's comments and his teammates' actions showed Monday, the prospect of meeting the Bucks has yet to really excite the Celtics. Maybe it's because they realize that the Bucks, in their current condition, will have an extremely difficult time making this a close, competitive series.
Sidney Moncrief, Milwaukee's All-Star guard who is questionable tonight, missed four of the seven games against the 76ers because of a torn ligament in his left heel. When he did play, Moncrief moved like a wounded deer but still contributed greatly in three of the Bucks' four victories.
Terry Cummings, Milwaukee's leading scorer, dislocated the middle finger on his left hand in the first half of Sunday's game but later returned to finish the game. Cummings is expected to play tonight, as is sixth-man Ricky Pierce, who has a sprained left ankle.
Beyond those injuries, the Bucks are simply tired. They needed seven games to dismiss a 76er team that came one shot from advancing, even without injured center Moses Malone and guard Andrew Toney.
The Celtics, on the other hand, are tired only of waiting. After systematically dismantling the Chicago Bulls in three and Atlanta Hawks in five games, the Celtics figure to have another short series against the Bucks. After all, Boston beat Milwaukee in all five regular-season games when Moncrief's heel was healthy and Cummings' finger fine.
Of course, the Celtics weren't predicting any such thing Monday. Coach K.C. Jones tried to be convincing when he said he was very concerned about the Bucks.
"Anyone who comes in here to play us is going to be throwing everything they have at us," Jones said. "The players know they have to take Milwaukee seriously. I didn't have to say anything."
Milwaukee canceled practice Monday and decided to fly to Boston Monday night, so it's not immediately known how Coach Don Nelson will try to beat the Celtics, who have lost only once in the playoffs and only once all season at the Garden.
What Nelson has done previously, and figures to do again in this series, is clog the middle with one or more of his 7-foot centers--Alton Lister, Randy Breuer and Paul Mokeski--and force the Celtics to shoot from the outside. Celtic players fully expect this tactic and don't seem at all worried about it.
"We know what to expect," forward Kevin McHale said. "Between last year in the playoffs, this regular season and what's happened thus far in the playoffs, what can anybody do to us we haven't already seen?"
Bird says that he's counting on Cummings and another Buck double-teaming him inside.
"No different than any other team, except Milwaukee is much better at doing that," Bird said. "I think they are going to have a matchup problem. They can't use that small lineup they have against us, that's for sure."
At times in the Philadelphia series, Milwaukee went with a lineup of Cummings, 6-9; Paul Pressey, 6-5; Pierce, 6-5, and Craig Hodges, 6-1. It's more likely that the Bucks will go the other way, with two of their three big men playing at once.
"If they try to put a smaller guy on (Celtic center Robert) Parish, then Parish is going to score a lot," Bird said. "But they can't put a smaller guy on Kevin (McHale), because Kevin will kill them. But the Bucks probably won't want to go with two 7-footers the whole game. This is a key matchup for us."
Bird stopped short at eliminating the Bucks before the series even began, but he hinted that the only team that can beat the Celtics in this particular series is the Celtics.
"That's the way we like to feel," Bird said. "If we just play up to our potential, we'll be all right. We don't concern ourselves too much with our opponents. We go over their plays and all that, but we feel if we play the way we should, we'll beat most teams."
Do the Lakers fall into that "most teams" category?
"No, the Lakers are tough," Bird said. "You got to put them up on a pedestal along with us. But we're confident we can win our next two series. We haven't accomplished anything yet. If we don't win our next two series, we'll be very let down."