- TOP PLAYERSOffensePABLO S. TORRE | August 20, 2012
- TAMPA BAY buccaneersENEMY lines WHAT A RIVAL COACH SAYSJune 28, 2012
- Faces in the CrowdJune 11, 2001
As the Celtics' 116th straight sellout crowd of 15,320 watched Game 1, for a while it appeared that those were pertinent questions. A year ago in their opening miniseries game against Philadelphia, the Hawks had been embarrassed 111-76. This time, instead of having his team try to run stride for stride with a more talented club, Loughery had Atlanta attack with a variety of spread offenses, clearing out two, three and sometimes four players in an effort to put his outstanding scorers in head-to-head encounters with Celtic defenders.
More often than not, the Hawks' best offensive weapon turned out to be Forward Dan Roundfield, who would finish the game with 24 points and 20 rebounds as he controlled both the boards and the Atlanta attack. On defense, the Hawks swarmed and trapped, double-teaming the ball whenever it went down low and forcing Boston to score from the outside, where the Celtics guards shot 14 for 36. The game plan worked so well that a 15-9 spurt in the fourth quarter put Atlanta up 85-81 with 6:55 to play.
Things continued to go the Hawks' way when Maxwell—who, in the upset of the evening, had been given an award for good sportsmanship by The Boston Globe, even though he hasn't spoken to the press all season—was called for an offensive foul with 6:38 left, and Boston called what seemed a desperation timeout. As the Celtics returned to the court, the crowd noisily rallied behind them, and now for the first time the Hawks appeared to be asking themselves, "What are we doing here?" For the remainder of the game the answer was nothing much. Buckner, who isn't known for his shooting, hit three key jumpers as Boston outscored Atlanta 22-10 and won the game 103-95.
Although Atlanta had done most everything right but win in Game 1, it was generally assumed that the series would end in Dixie on Friday night. After all, the reasoning went, the Hawks couldn't play any better, and Boston wouldn't shoot a measly 45.7%, as it had in the opener. That turned out to be right. The Celtics shot 40.4%. Atlanta led by as many as 17 points en route to a 55-42 halftime margin. Forward Rudy Macklin, who'd had a cold hand in Game 1, huddled before the game with Dale Brown, his coach at Louisiana State, and came out sizzling, scoring 10 points and adding seven rebounds in the first half.
Macklin got another five points in the third period, but the biggest basket for the Hawks came with one second remaining in the quarter. Having frittered away the halftime lead via seven turnovers and numerous bad shots, Atlanta found itself tied at 66. Inbounding the ball at midcourt, Randy Smith hit Dominique Wilkins, who calmly sank a 40-footer from just across halfcourt, putting the Hawks back up by three. Atlanta hung on from there to win 95-93. "That was really the ball game," Fitch said of Wilkins' shot afterward.
Perhaps a more decisive factor was the defensive job Wilkins did on Bird, denying him the ball and hassling him all the way. Nique, as he is called by his teammates, held Bird to four-of-18 shooting from the floor. Bird wound up with just 15 points. In Game 1 he had scored 26 points, but he made only nine of 20 shots and had scored only 10 points when Wilkins was in the game. "Of this season's rookies, Terry Cummings and Clark Kellogg got all of the ink, but neither one had to compete under playoff pressure and neither had to play defense," said Atlanta General Manager Stan Kasten after the game. "It's obvious how far Dominique's come."
When asked if he thought Wilkins had won the battle between them Friday, Bird snapped, "I didn't know me and him were playing one-on-one. I thought this was a team game."
Previously he'd said, "In the playoffs, teams are keying on me more, and I feel it's more important to the Celtics that I work harder in areas other than shooting, like rebounding and passing. There have been some great defensive players on me, but sometimes I really believe that no one can guard me."
The rubber match between Bird and Wilkins almost didn't materialize. Wilkins stubbed his left foot on the television stand in his Boston hotel room Sunday morning and got a nasty gash on his little toe. The bleeding stopped, and Wilkins was given an injection of novocaine and cortisone before the game.
Bird knew none of this and it probably wouldn't have mattered anyway. He came out firing, scoring 10 first-quarter points and harassing the hobbling Wilkins into poor shooting (1 for 6 for the game) from the outside. "I took him completely out of his game, which is what I set out to do," Bird said. During the bench-clearing melee, which occurred at 6:15 of the third quarter, that meant a little one-on-one jawing. "I told him to go back to the bench and sit down and that I hoped he had a nice summer," Bird said. "He's just a rookie, so you got to take your shots wherever you can get 'em."