Battered Celtics Find Way : They Overcome Ainge Injury and Milwaukee, 119-113

May 18, 1987|MARK HEISLER | Times Staff Writer

BOSTON — Stop me if you've heard this one before, but. . . .

Things were looking grim for the Boston Celtic five on Sunday.

The Milwaukee Bucks led, 110-103, with but 5:14 left to play.

Also, the home team didn't have enough healthy people to play one-on-one in the driveway, but the inevitable happened, anyway.

Call it heart, call it guts, call it officiating, call it magic, but the Celtics, who'd blown a 3-1 lead in this series and trailed most of Sunday, scored 19 of the last 22 points to win Game 7, 119-113, and advance to the Eastern Conference final.

Now they get a whole day off before starting in with the younger, deeper, more-rested Detroit Pistons. One day is what it takes just to bandage the starting team.

"I did think this was pretty gutty of us," said Kevin McHale (stress fracture right ankle, right ankle sprain, hyper-extended right knee, 26 points, 15 rebounds).

"You look at our team, we're falling pretty fast. Danny (Ainge, dislocated right index finger, sprained right knee) fell by the wayside today. We gotta pick him up on the way back."

Who is left to pick anyone up? Robert Parish (sprained left ankle) didn't make the trip to Milwaukee for Game 6, didn't practice Saturday, then limped out Sunday and got 23 points, 19 rebounds and 4 blocks. Bill Walton (stress fracture, right foot), out for a week, limped back for what could have become the last minute of his career.

"We even saw Bill today," said Larry Bird, grinning. "I thought he was froze to that seat but today he got up."

Does the frequency of falling bodies ever give Bird the idea it isn't meant to be this time?

"Yeah, but you still got to beat us four times," he said. "Sometimes things are not meant to be but I believe if you work hard enough, you may not win the big one but you're going to be a hell of a lot closer than everybody else."

For the Bucks, this was the big one and it was theirs until the very, bitter end when Paul Pressey fouled out, leaving no one who could guard Bird, or come up with the big field goal or any field goal. The Bucks went the last 5:23 without scoring from the field which tends to get you in trouble.

The hidden turning point came with the Bucks up 110-105. They pushed the ball up the floor after a Boston goal, once more finding the Celtics unable to get back. Pressey blasted down the lane, windmilling the ball at arm's length behind him for one of his spectacular Connie Hawkins/Dr. J layups, rolled one just off the rim--and ran into Dennis Johnson, who had seen this move before and set up to take the charge. Instead of getting the call and two free throws, Pressey got his fourth foul.

With 4:36 left, Pressey picked up No. 5, trying for a steal in the backcourt. This was perhaps the only dumb thing he had done all day, but it was enough.

"I was making a substitution and I didn't see it, but that was not a very bright foul to make," Don Nelson, Milwaukee's coach said. "One thing we've hammered home is the importance of having both Jack (Sikma) and Press in the game, especially down the stretch.

"If a foul has to be called for holding (as Pressey's sixth would be), OK, but an open-court foul is something that should not have happened. Even though I didn't see it, there's not a lot of excuses. If that sounds like I'm critical of Press, I'm not. He was sensational today."

The beginning of the end came with 2:32 left and the Bucks leading 113-111, when Pressey was called for holding Bird after a lob sailed out of bounds. There are a couple of things you could say about that one: (1) it was kind of ticky-tack, and (2) Pressey had been holding Bird like an octopus all game and had no legitimate complaint.

Nelson, who probably coached his last game for the Bucks, didn't protest it and complimented officials Ed Rush and Hugh Evans on their work.

Bird had some complaints but not on that call.

"They let him play me rough," Bird said. "They let him hold and grab. If you're known as a defensive player in this league, they're gonna let you hold and grab and give you 8-9 fouls. I knew they wouldn't let another player play me the way he had, though."

Bird made both his free throws and it was 113-113. Nelson was forced to turn Bird over to Sidney Moncrief, once a mainstay on the all-defensive team but two inches smaller and a lot skinner than the 6-5 Pressey. If Pressey was a reach against the 6-9, 220-pound Bird, Moncrief figured to be in real trouble. And it materialized.

With 2:15 left, Ricky Pierce got off the last percentage Buck shot, an open 15-footer on a drive into the lane, and missed.

At the other end Bird backed Moncrief in, turned into the lane, was fouled and made two free throws, making it 115-113 with 2:02 left.

The Bucks ran a clear-out play for the 6-5 Pierce against the 6-10 Fred Roberts. Pierce went for the 18-foot shot over the top and missed. At the other end, Bird backed Moncrief in again, drew another foul and made two more free throws. With 1:31 left, it was 117-113.

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