Dominique Wilkins was annoyed. That was obvious to Lenny Wilkens, and everyone else in Boston Garden, from the start.
He had been in a bad shooting slump. He had a sore ankle and began a game against the Celtics Wednesday night bothered by a head cold and the fact that on the Atlanta Hawks' first few possessions, he couldn't get his itchy fingers on the ball.
Mookie Blaylock was dribbling out near the key. Wilkins ran toward him with his hands out. Blaylock dribbled the other way and hoisted a jumper that missed. Wilkins turned, facing the Hawks' bench, and cursed. He didn't exactly sprint back on defense. Soon, without fuming or fuss, Lenny Wilkens called him the bench.
The tranquil-looking coach knew it was going to be a stomach-churning night with the 33-year-old no-conscious scorer. Wilkins happens to be in the last year of his $3.5 million contract. That's bound to exacerbate any game-night situation when Wilkins isn't in the offensive flow.
When Wilkins wasn't in the game Wednesday night, the Hawks' ball movement was noticeably improved. But he is still their marquee player. Their ultimate chance to challenge the Knicks and Chicago is linked to him. Thus the coach's dilemma in Boston was to figure out how to get Wilkins through the night, extract something positive from his game, without letting him drag the Hawks down.