BOSTON — The five Celtic ironmen, who could have used the rest of the week off, instead had another stop tacked onto their long and winding road Wednesday night by the Milwaukee Bucks, who were supposed to lose as everyone else does here, bid adieu to their coach and get out of the way for the NBA Eastern Conference finals.
Only one opponent (the Lakers in December) of the last 80 had won in Boston Garden, but when Terry Cummings started raining points on the Green Machine in the fourth quarter, it was about to become two.
Cummings had a quiet first three periods but, after a little screaming in his ear by Coach Don Nelson, he rallied for 14 points in the fourth period Wednesday night, and the Bucks won, 129-124. The Celtics still lead the series, 3-2, but now they have to go back to Milwaukee for Friday night's sixth game.
"What did I tell him?" Nelson said. "I told him to get his (rear end) on the boards, that's what I told him."
Buck guard John Lucas said Nelson yelled a few other unprintable things in the direction of Cummings, who is a lay preacher.
"It's not unusual," said Cummings, unperturbed. "It doesn't bother me. I've been around people who said things to me you wouldn't say to a dog."
This was a fabulous game with a surprise result. The teams battled through three overtimes in the two games in Milwaukee last week, with the Celtics winning both. When the Bucks left the floor on Sunday, the Mecca crowd gave Nelson a long standing ovation, the assumption being thathe had just coached his last home game. Nelson is known to have differences with new Buck owner Herb Kohn and has said he probably won't return.
The Celtics, meanwhile, had largely ignored their bench as usual, using four starters for 50 minutes or longer in Sunday's double overtime. Three were ages 33, 32 and 30. Although Celtic players keep denying that fatigue and all those minutes they played in the regular season are sapping them, they wouldn't have refused a day off.
There's no rest for those who don't play defense. Wednesday night, before that rarest of phenomena, a laid-back Boston Garden playoff crowd, the Celtics let the Bucks run off to a 13-4 lead in the first period and a 47-36 edge in the second.
After that, the teams basically traded haymaker after haymaker. By the early fourth period, the Celtics had ground out a 106-101 lead, and then Cummings came back for them.
He had nine points all night when he came off the bench, but he quickly banked a 12-foot turnaround over Larry Bird and scored on a lob from Paul Pressey. Then he blocked a Kevin McHale shot, starting a fast break on which Sidney Moncrief scored, putting the Bucks ahead.
The Bucks went up, 119-111, with 5:31 left. This time, the Celtics caught them as the Garden crowd returned to berserk-as-usual. With 1:24 left, Dennis Johnson made two free throws, and Boston was back in the lead, 124-123.
There was only one lead change left. The Bucks came down, hit Cummings, posted up on Bird on the left baseline, and Cummings banked in another 12-foot turnaround shot. At the other end, Robert Parrish was forced to try to make a play out on the floor and traveled. Jack Sikma then beat Parrish on a drive, drew a foul and made both free throws at :20.
All that remained was making sure that the Celtics didn't get the tying three-pointer. Bird and Johnson got shots off, but neither came close. Cummings made two more free throws, and everyone was ready to return to Wisconsin.
"Tonight, we sort of took it for granted we were going to win," Bird said. "It's always a good thing to win at home, but we have to start concentrating, knowing it's the playoffs, knowing the things you get away with in the regular season, you don't get away with in the playoffs."
So Don Nelson's further Buck career, which needed the improbable, received it. When Nelson emerged from his team's locker room, someone, obviously at a loss for a question to ask, remarked, "Big win."
"Yeah," said Nelson, looking amused. "I'd say it was."
Sidney Moncrief, who missed much of the season with bad knees, had 20 points in the first half, 33 altogether, and shot 13 for 18. "I didn't think we'd get a game like that from him in the playoffs," said Don Nelson. "This is the Sid we used to see every night. That'll give you some idea why the Bucks were so good all those years." . . . Larry Bird made only 8 of 22 shots for 26 points. He was 0 for 4 from three-point range. Bird, Kevin McHale and Robert Parish played 46, 42 and 42 minutes, respectively.