Kevin McHale made an impressive return to the National Basketball Assn. Tuesday night, but Tree Rollins, of all people, spoiled it.
McHale, who played in the postseason last spring with a broken bone in his foot, underwent surgery and missed the Boston Celtics' first 14 games.
He came off the bench to score 22 points in 22 minutes at Atlanta, but the Hawks, led by Rollins, beat the Celtics, 120-106. The Celtics were not in the game after the first seven or eight minutes.
Rollins, who finished with 20 points and 10 rebounds in 27 minutes, sparked a 15-0 spurt late in the first period, and the Celtics never threatened again. It was the first time this season Coach K.C. Jones was able to give his regulars a good rest.
In the first four games of the season, Rollins played 65 minutes and was 0 for 9 shooting. He missed four games because of a knee injury, and when he returned, he became backup center to Jon Koncak.
Rollins missed both shots he attempted in his first game as a reserve but has been sizzling ever since. In the next three games, he found the touch. He was 9 for 11 in the three games, and was 6 for 6 in a rout of San Antonio Saturday night.
In this one, the 32-year-old 11-year veteran was 8 for 12.
"I found out what I could do," McHale said. "I didn't come here to watch or play a few minutes, I came to play the game. You can't worry about an injury and still play."
The Celtics' strategy was to leave Rollins alone and double up on the Atlanta guards and Dominique Wilkins.
"We run plays to get (Randy) Wittman and other guards open," Rollins said. "Each time we ran the play, their two guys stayed with Wittman and I was all alone for easy baskets."
Larry Bird played only 27 minutes for the Celtics and was 4 for 4 from the line. He has made 53 free throws in a row. The Celtics record is 55, held by Bill Sharman.
Detroit 124, New Jersey 115--The injury-plagued Nets played their best game of the season at East Rutherford, N.J., but fell 13 seconds short of a victory.
With 13 seconds left in regulation, sharpshooting Vinnie Johnson of the Pistons sank a jumper to tie the game and send it into overtime. The Nets, who led by 10 in the third quarter, lost all hope in overtime when they made only 2 of 13 field-goal attempts.
Adrian Dantley led the scorers with 31 points. In addition to going 14 for 22 from the field, Dantley had 8 assists.
Seattle 112, New York 109--Dale Ellis scored 37 points, including a go-ahead three-point play with 1:02 left at New York.
The SuperSonics led, 102-88, with 7:34 left, but the Knicks rallied to take a 107-105 lead with 57 seconds left on a jumper by Patrick Ewing. Each team scored a basket before Ellis scored on a driving layup, was fouled and converted the free throw. The Knicks missed two chances to regain the lead before Kevin Williams made a dunk for Seattle to end the scoring.
Houston 106, Denver 101--Even at home the Rockets are struggling. Ralph Sampson, who scored 18 of his 20 points in the second half at Houston, scored the go-ahead basket with only 36 seconds left.
Akeem Olajuwon had 22 points and 14 rebounds for the Rockets, who were tied, 100-100, when Sampson sank a hook shot from the free-throw line to give Houston the lead for good.
Blair Rasmussen, who scored a career-high 25 points for the Nuggets, tied it, 100-100, with a short jumper.
Portland 102, Phoenix 100--Terry Porter sank an 18-foot jumper from the top of the key with 22 seconds left at Portland, Ore., to clinch the Trail Blazers' sixth straight victory.
Clyde Drexler scored 35 points for the Trail Blazers, who were without injured forward Kiki Vandeweghe. Vandeweghe has a back injury.
After Porter's basket, Larry Nance, who is just off the disabled list, and Bernard Thompson missed shots for the Suns that would have tied the game.
Chicago 98, Golden State 97--Rookie Scottie Pippen's driving layup with seven seconds left gave the Bulls a victory at Oakland. The Warriors, who trailed by 25 points midway through the second quarter, had a chance to win in the final seconds, but Sleepy Floyd's layup with one second left rolled around the rim and off as time expired.
John Paxson and rookie Horace Grant each scored 19 points for the Bulls, and Michael Jordan and Pippen had 16 each.