Teamwork, aggresssivness, determination led Celtics to 15th NBA title
If this is the me generation, the Boston Celtics are hopelessly but wonderfully old-fashioned. They still play unselfish, team basketball, the kind that continues to win championships. Proof of this came the Tuesday night in a quaking Boston Garden, where the Celtics locked up their 15th National Basketball Association title with a 111-102 victory in the decisive game of a best-of-seven series.
For the vanquished Los Angeles Lakers, it was a case of history repeating itself. The club has never won a seventh game against Boston, although it twice beat other foes in full-length finals as the Minneapolis Lakers.
The Celtics, of course, were in their lair for this one, drawing added inspiration from a zealous sellout crowd and the canopy of championship banners and retired player numbers overhead.
If they didn't necessarily look invincible, they certainly appeared determined. And in a seventh game, where the ''no harm, no foul'' school of officiating is generally employed, the more physical Celtics stood to have an edge. They capitalized on it, too, outrebounding the visitors 52 to 33 in one of the contest's key statistics.
Laker Coach Pat Riley later would observe that the two clubs were equal in talent, even though some observers felt that L.A. was actually more athletically brilliant with Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Magic Johnson, Michael Cooper, and emerging superstar James Worthy. The Celtics talent, Riley observed, was ''made differently,'' and perhaps for that reason gave Boston ''the better team,'' at least under the circumstances.
''In a game decided by aggressiveness and rebounding, their talent is better than ours,'' he said. ''We have to hope our quickness gets the better of their size, and it did for awhile, about 3 1/2 games. Then their size and power started to take control.''
In the decisive victory, the play of Cedric Maxwell was another significant factor. The angular Celtic forward is normally the ultimate role player, the opportunistic inside scorer and bump-and-grind rebounder who soils his uniform inside as Larry Bird shoots from outside.
But on this particular night, Bird was often compressed between double-teaming defenders, who aimed to deny him the ball and limit his scoring opportunities. The Celtics adjusted, going to Maxwell more and letting him utilize his unique bag of body-contorting, scoring tricks.
A proficient if overshadowed player who was the playoff MVP when Boston won the 1981 NBA title, Maxwell eagerly took up the slack. ''I've always been a big-game player and tonight was a big game,'' he said.
The longest-tenured Celtic did the bulk of his offensive damage in the first half, scoring 17 of his team-high 24 points, and drawing repeated fouls. In fact, he had as many points on free throws (11) as the entire Laker team after the opening two periods, which saw Boston take a 58-52 lead.
Maxwell, however, was not the only player who rose to the occasion. Guard Gerald Henderson did as well, knocking in three straight jump shots to counter L.A.'s offensive parries early in the third quarter.
Considering the criticism heaped on the Celtic guards for their erratic shooting, Henderson's breakout was just the sort of confidence-inducing effort Boston needed heading down the stretch. For, as witnesses of L.A.'s floor-length rushes know, the greyhounds of Tinseltown are quite capable of sudden scoring explosions.
That frightening prospect had achieved reality in Game 6, when the Lakers erased an 11-point second-half deficit and came on to even the series with a 119 -108 win.
But this time the Celtics produced a surge of their own, outscoring L.A. 16-6 to open up a 91-78 lead at the end of three quarters. And there was a bonus: the run was made with Bird resting on the bench. The Lakers had to be a bit demoralized by this turn of events, and a little bewildered too.
But they are a championship caliber team in their own right (witness their ' 80 and '82 titles) and fought back valiantly, closing to 105-102 with under a minute to play. Visions of the series' third overtime game, or even a last-second defeat, momentarily danced in frenzied heads after a sequence of wild, end-to-end action, which included two steals and a shot rejection. Eventually things swung back in the Celtics' favor. Boston's Dennis Johnson, who was maligned earlier in the series but played brilliantly from Game 4 on, canned two free throws that virtually iced the victory.
Boston has now won championships with basically three different groups of players, beginning in 1957, a compelling testament to the Celtic way.