Celtics didn't have their big guns, but they still gunned down Bullets

Phil Jackman

January 29, 1992|By Phil Jackman

LANDOVER -- No Bird . . . no McHale . . . no problem.

There ought to be a law against the Boston Celtics. Or at least an ordinance.

Into the Capital Centre the Green Wave washed last night without Larry Bird (bad back) and Kevin McHale (bad knee), and with ancient Robert Parish moving even slower than usual on his permanently weak ankles.

What a great time for revenge, especially when the Washington Bullets found themselves leading by 13 points five minutes into the third period. Remember all those games Bird won with three-point shots with no more than a second remaining on the clock?

The way it worked out, the visitors, although you'd hardly know it from the crowd reaction, had the home team just where they wanted it: Lulled into a false sense of security.

The Celts, their scrambling defense a menace, outscored the Bullets over the last third of the game, 46-22, and won going away, 98-87.

A rookie and a Miami Heat recalcitrant whose season started just a couple of weeks ago were the keys. "There's no doubt Rick Fox [the rookie] and Sherman Douglas [the recalcitrant] won it for us with their defense and getting the ball up the floor quickly," said backup now starting forward Ed Pinckney, who led Boston to a huge 11-rebound advantage in the fast-paced game.

"One thing the guys [Bird and McHale] being out has done for us is make us much quicker on the perimeter defensively," said coach Chris Ford. "With the quickness, we denied them a lot of passes and Washington didn't get any open shots there for a while."

The Bullets' 65-52 lead as the midpoint of the third quarter approached, all but vanished by period's end as a result of several bad passes and a series of Celtics steals. Just the opposite was true in the first half, Boston being guilty of 14 turnovers, twice that of the Bullets.

"Actually," said Ford, "our defense was good all the way through. But giving the ball up so much in the first half led to them getting 20 [of 53] points off our turnovers. The halftime talk was easy. I just said, 'Take care of the ball.' "

"I hope someone destroys the tape of that first half," said Pinckney. "If anyone wants to know how to beat us all they have to do is check it out."

While Ford was experimenting with lineup combinations he never dreamed he'd employ, the Bullets had a good thing going with starters Pervis Ellison, Harvey Grant, David Wingate and Michael Adams splitting up the points and Larry Stewart otherwise doing what needed to be done coming off the bench.

"All this is new to me, not starting, " said Douglas, "but coming in is something I think I'm going to enjoy getting accustomed to." The third-year player from Syracuse knows the assignment: "Explode the ball upcourt and play good defense."

In his longest stint as a Celt, 30 minutes, he stashed 17 points, was third on the team in rebounds with seven and had a half-dozen classy assists. No doubt the best came when Pinckney slipped his man in the corner and Douglas found him all alone underneath with a seeing-eye bullet pass from beyond the three-point stripe. It ended a 15-5 lesson that saw Boston go from a 75-74 deficit to an 89-80 bulge.

ZTC During that six-minute stretch, the Bullets just couldn't get anything working as Fox, or Reggie Lewis, or Douglas, or Parish would short-circuit a play and get the ball headed in the opposite direction in a blink.

When a team wins, the players can't wait until the stat sheet shows up in the locker room. It makes for great reading while toweling off. No Bullet made a mad rush to check out the numbers last night.

Fourteen points on the fourth quarter, that's all. A 46-35 deficit in the rebounding department with Boston employing a 6-foot-5 power forward, Kevin Gamble. The Celtics registered 13 steals. No Bird, no McHale and Parish held to just nine points. And the Bullets lost? Who wanted to read such nonsense?

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