Larry Bird welcomed the New York Knicks with open arms, but it was Kevin McHale who provided the impetus that gave the Celtics a 112-92 victory in the playoff opener between the teams Friday night at Boston.
McHale scored 12 of his 29 points in a 32-9 spurt in the second half that broke open a close game and enabled the Celtics to beat the Knicks for the 17th time in a row at Boston Garden.
Bird had predicted that the Knicks' trapping, pressing defense would enable the Celtics to get a number of easy baskets and an easy victory.
But with 3:32 left in the third quarter, Bill Cartwright's short jumper gave New York a 74-71 lead. Then McHale took charge of the offense, and the Celtics went to work on defense.
While the Knicks went 5 1/2 minutes without a field goal, McHale and Dennis Johnson keyed an 11-1 run that put Boston ahead to stay, 82-75, after three quarters. McHale was just getting started. He led a 21-8 run that wiped out the Knicks.
The Celtics have not lost a first-round series since 1956, before Bill Russell started their long run of championship seasons.
Patrick Ewing led the late-season drive that enabled the Knicks to make the playoffs, but he wasn't as much a factor in this game. He wound up with 16 points and 11 rebounds.
"The key to the whole game was K.C. (Coach K.C. Jones) changed defenses on them. That was a smart move because we had been playing basically the same defense and the Knicks adjusted to it."
The switch was to double-team Ewing instead of fronting him as they did earlier.
"We scored several baskets off the switch before they realized what we had done," McHale said. "The Knicks played as well as they can play. I don't think we did."
The Celtics had a better shooting touch. They made 42 of 81 shots while the Knicks were 35 of 85. Bird had 29 points.
Atlanta 110, Milwaukee 107--The Hawks, trailing, 60-48, at halftime at Atlanta, needed someone to provide a spark. It came from an unlikely source.
Randy Wittman, whose playing time was cut back this season because of sub-par shooting, scored 18 of his 20 points in the second half and the Hawks struggled to victory in the series opener.
Wittman, a 51.7% shooter who slipped to 47.9% this season, made 9 of 14 shots in the second half to lead the comeback.
Dominique Wilkins, who finished with 26 points, scored 12 in a 36-point third quarter that put the Hawks in front by 12.
The Bucks fought back and led, 101-100, with 2:02 remaining. Four consecutive free throws by Kevin Willis clinched the win for the Hawks.
Denver 126, Seattle 123--The SuperSonics played a superlative game at Denver, dominating every phase most of the night.
But they lost because they missed free throws in the clutch. Xavier McDaniel missed two with 1:24 left and the Sonics trailing, 120-119. Derrick McKey grabbed the rebound of the second miss, was fouled and made only one free throw to tie it.
Alex English, who finished strong to get 28 points, sank a jumper, and the Nuggets got another break when Nate McMillan made only one of two from the line. Fat Lever made the last four points for the Nuggets to clinch it.
The Sonics were nearly perfect early. They stretched a 10-point halftime lead to 59-44 in the third quarter. They were still ahead by 10 going into the last quarter.
But Lever and English mounted a charge for the Nuggets in a 42-point quarter.