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Scott Ostler

Gosh Sakes Alive, This Won't Go Five

May 27, 1986|Scott Ostler

BOSTON — Warm up the VCR and get the rest of this series on tape, fans. The Boston Celtics are giving a demonstration of basketball you might want to file away in your tape library and show to the grandkids 30 years from now when they try to tell you the Jupiter Jumpsters are the best team in hoops history.

The Celtics won the series opener Monday, beating the Houston Rockets, 112-100. The Celtics will sweep this series.

I realize, of course, that in sports, there's no such thing as a sure thing. That's what I was saying Monday morning to my hotel room-service waiter, Pat Riley.

Still, you can't like the Rockets chances, not even to win one game in this best-of-seven. An omen: Early Sunday morning in Houston, 6,000 Rockets fans camping out on the lawn outside the Summit to buy tickets for Games 3-4-5 got soaked when the automatic sprinkler system went on.

The fans threw rocks and bottles at the police. Twenty wet fans were arrested. The police called the fans animals.

Maybe this just isn't going to be Houston's series.

Monday afternoon, in the third quarter, the Rockets showed something they didn't show in five games against the Lakers.

Desperation. Panic.

The Celtics outscored the Rockheads, 16-4, at the end of that quarter. That was the game, maybe the series.

"This is the worst poise we've shown," Houston Coach Bill Fitch said.

Bad poise. It'll kill you every time.

"We lost our composure," Houston guard Robert Reid said.

An omen: You know how intense coaches are. They work 24 hours, studying film, agonizing, never taking a break.

The night before this series opener, Celtic Coach K.C. Jones was down at the Last Hurrah room of the Parker House Hotel, grabbing the mike and singing ballads such as "Misty," "Georgia on My Mind" and "You're Nobody 'Til Somebody Loves You."

Loosen up, K.C.

A team always, to an extent, reflects the personality of its coach. The Celtics aren't likely to blow this series by tightening up.

Omen: The pre-series injury report came out Sunday, and Larry Bird wasn't on it.

Last year at this time, Bird was recovering from a bar brawl and had some bothersome hand injuries. This year?

"I feel pretty good," Bird said, after 21 points, 8 rebounds, 13 assists and 4 steals.

"I feel very healthy. I'm ready to go. I don't think I can feel much better."

Larry Bird is at the peak of his game. This means he could pick up a Boston Garden usher, two beer vendors and a ballboy and they would give Houston a run. Give Bird the Celtics and they will not be stopped. Not by Houston.

Basketball people are starting to call Bird the greatest basketball player of all time, and his game will never be better than it is right now, his motivation will never be greater . . . unless he goes against the Lakers next year.

He receives awards left and right, the same way he shoots.

"You got an MVP trophy before the game," someone said to him Monday. "Was that a league trophy?"

"I don't know," Bird said. "I receive 'em every day. It might have been a Seagram's award."

"It was a Miller Lite award," someone else said.

"I don't even drink their beer," Bird said, sipping a diet soda.

Houston Coach Bill Fitch better find out Bird's brand and order a case for each of his players.

Forget the individual trophies. Bird, the league's MVP by acclimation, wants this championship badly.

"My years are numbered now," the 29-year-old Bird said. "We gotta take advantage every time we get to the finals."

When somebody told Bird the Rockets had a "nothing to lose" attitude going into the series, he bristled: "If the Rockets feel that way, then they shouldn't be here."

Maybe that's the key.

The Rockets tried to double-team Bird in the second half and it turned out to be a terrible idea. To double-team Bird effectively, if there is such a thing, you have to be quick and sneaky. Houston was neither.

"It (a double-team) takes me completely out of the offense for a while," Bird said, "but when they do that, somebody's open on the court and I can find him pretty easy."

Isn't this a simple game?

Omen: The Boston Garden crowd showed up Monday.

Bird, the Celtic spokesman on most matters of import, has been openly critical of the Garden fans. They've been far too quiet for his taste in recent games. They have not been fulfilling their obligation to fire up the home team.

Maybe that fan lethargy accounts for the Celtics' disappointing 48-1 record at home going into this series.

But the fans showed up Monday.

"They've been like Laker fans," Bird said scornfully. "They got greedy. They would sit back and wait until something special happened, or the game got close. They just came for recreation, instead of to cheer.

"Today they were the old Celtic fans, loud and boisterous, and we've always played to our fans."

Fans, schmans. The Celtics play to their own tune. They are good and they are cocky. Monday, they played a good game, not a great game, and blew the Rockets off the court.

"We played very well," Bird said. "The thing I'm concerned with is our defense. Once that starts to click, we feel nobody can beat us."

And nobody will, not this month or next month, not if Bird has his way and the Celtics continue to play Celtic basketball.

Which the Celtics figure to do, for three more games. Boston sweeps, Houston weeps. Or is that just the sprinklers?

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