1985 - 1986 Boston Celtics
Walton Begins to Impose his Will off the Bench
ATLANTA, GA. The Call last night was a breakaway foul on Atlanta's Ray Williams, a decision by referee Mike Lauerman which gave the Celtics two foul shots plus possession of the basketball afterward, and which set forces in motion that resulted in a curious 109-105 Celtics ' triumph.
The game ended with Dennis Johnson sinking two big free throws with four seconds left, just as he had sunk two with 12 seconds left and two more with 18 seconds to play. But the big swing had taken place a couple of minutes before, when the Hawks, who had outscrapped the Celtics all night, went from three points ahead (96-93) to two points behind faster than you could say, "Doug Henning."
The young Hawks had arrived at that particular juncture by changing an 81-77 Celtics' lead (9:05 to play) into three leads of five points, thanks to a succession of superb offensive maneuvers by the likes of Dominique Wilkins (40 points) and Kevin Willis. They had, in fact, just answered three Celtics' baskets when Williams brought the ball up following a Bill Walton layup with 2:29 remaining.
As Ray started his pet crossover dribble rocker move, Johnson poke-checked the ball away. "You've got to try something at that particular time," explained DJ. "You're either gonna do it or you're not."
DJ then picked up the ball and started downcourt. Williams grabbed him as he went into the basket, whereupon Lauerman called not merely a routine two- shot foul, but instead the more damaging breakaway foul. This meant the Celtics would get the two free throws while retaining possession of the ball. Atlanta called for time out, which hardly bothered the Celtics, who then had a chance to set up a play following the free throws.
When play resumed, Johnson made both fouls to reduce the margin to one. Larry Bird then came off a stack, drove the lane from right to left and shoveled a pass to a cutting Walton. The Big Redhead dunked over Tree Rollins, drew a foul and then completed a crucial three-point play. The Celtics were suddenly ahead by two at 98-96, and the game momentum had swung irrevocably in their favor.
There ensued any number of big offensive plays by men on both squads, but the difference was that now Boston was dealing from both psychological, as well as scoreboard, strength. For the record, a sweet buzzer-beating jump hook by Kevin McHale with 30 seconds left (103-100) was the biggest Boston hoop down the stretch, while Wilkins twice threw in tough shots to keep his team afloat.
From an overall team standpoint, this game was hardly a Boston showcase. The Celtics committed 23 more turnovers (including five Bird giveaways in the second quarter alone) and scored a solitary fast-break basket in the final three quarters. They were beaten to many loose balls and, in general, played as if stricken by a group attack of ennui.
"We won the ball game, so I'm happy about that," said K.C. Jones. "But they know how poorly they played on offense. We were impatient." But if the team in general failed to distinguish itself, there was, nevertheless, a major breakthrough on an individual basis: Bill Walton played like Bill Walton.
With Robert Parish stumbling his way through a 24-minute, 0-for-5 night, the 1984-85 Celtics would have cashed in their chips early. But even Greg Kite's mother would have to admit there is a vast difference in the quality of Boston's backup center play now that Walton has arrived.
Walton submitted 14 points, eight rebounds, a block and a variety of clutch plays, starting with the big three-pointer. He was on the floor for the final 4:13, and his was a comforting presence. Forgotten was the seven- turnover nightmare in East Rutherford, N.J., and the 10-minute, five- personals disaster on Wednesday. The Walton on display last night was the Walton the Celtics hoped they were getting.
But they were lucky the opponent was a young team with just one big scoring threat, a team whose regular starting backcourt is either injured (Glenn Rivers) or out of shape (Eddie Johnson), a team that showed up with only two players (Rollins and Williams) who have more than three years of NBA experience. The Celtics were very beatable last night, and there are about a dozen NBA teams who would have put them away easily.