RICHFIELD, Ohio -- These were the mighty Boston Celtics, jogging out yesterday in their green-and-white uniforms, brimming with what they claim is a special pride. They were led by three future Hall of Famers with a wealth of experience and a few championships -- a trio buttressed by an enviable record in big games, the kind of games that define the character of a basketball team.
They were to be buried in a matter of minutes.
Center Robert Parish bounced the ball off his foot on the first possession, and it went downhill from there. The Cleveland Cavaliers led by 15 points after eight minutes, and they were just starting to enjoy themselves.
The Cavs went on to a shockingly easy 122-104 victory over the Celtics in Game 7 of their Eastern Conference semifinal series. This was a stunning end for the Celtics, who entered 17-3 in playoff Game 7 contests -- 6-1 in the Larry Bird era.
"That was probably one of the most disappointing games I've ever played in," said Kevin McHale, 34, who scored 15 on 6-for-14 shooting.
"Being swept by Milwaukee in '83, and losing at home to New York [in the 1990 playoffs] were the two most disappointing games for me," said Bird, 35, who had 12 points [6-for-9] in 33 minutes. "But I had the same kind of feeling today. This one was right up there with those."
Parish, 38, the other member of the Big Three, had two points and three rebounds in 21 minutes. He could not deal with Cavaliers center Brad Daugherty during the game, and he didn't deal with reporters afterward.
Ah, Daugherty. After being held to 12 points in Game 6 -- a 31-point Celtics victory in Boston Friday -- Daugherty came back with a vengeance before 20,273 at The Coliseum. He made nine of 11 from the floor and nine of 11 free throws, finishing with 27 points, nine rebounds, six assists and three blocked shots. The No. 1 overall draft pick in 1986, Daugherty asserted himself as a true franchise player -- on the day of the NBA lottery no less.
"This gives us a sense of accomplishment, but we're not satisfied yet," Daugherty said.
The Cavaliers reached a third playoff round for the first time in their 22 years. They were last in the Eastern finals in 1976, losing in six games to the Celtics. In this series, they beat the Celtics by 16 or more three times.
"Certainly we weren't happy about [Game 6] the other night, so we came home and walked through situations and knew exactly what we wanted to do," Cavaliers coach Lenny Wilkens said. "We came out and executed to the letter."
Said McHale: "When the flood gates open like that, sometimes water keeps flowing through. After a while, we couldn't make a layup or get a loose ball or anything."
Soon, Indiana Pacers castoff Mike Sanders (17 points) was sticking jump shots in Bird's face, Craig Ehlo (12) was throwing in three-pointers with nobody in his face and forward Larry Nance (15 points, nine rebounds, eight assists) was doing just about everything else. The crowd was chanting, "Larr-EE, Larr-EE." And they didn't mean Bird.
"We just didn't have the same fire they had," said Reggie Lewis, who led the Celtics with 22 points.