- TOP PLAYERSOffensePABLO S. TORRE | August 20, 2012
- TAMPA BAY buccaneersENEMY lines WHAT A RIVAL COACH SAYSJune 28, 2012
- Faces in the CrowdJune 11, 2001
Maybe this was an NBA championship series that was destined to happen, the best against the worst to prove what the league would have all of its fans believe: That once the playoffs begin, forget everything, it's "the second season."
In this case it was the Boston Celtics, with the best regular-season record in the NBA, against the Houston Rockets, the worst of the 12 clubs that qualified for post-season play. The series could have ended in a flash, especially after Houston's Game 3 performance on Saturday, which tied a record for final-round ineptitude. But it didn't, because despite" the impatience of the Celtics' fans, the NBA steadfastly refused to raise championship banner No. 14 to the rafters of Boston Garden until the Celtics beat the Rockets four times. And after Houston lifted itself on Sunday, much like the space shuttle Columbia, which is the Rockets' newly adopted mascot, the fact was that the Celtics would need to play at least six games to win four.
On the other hand, who believed Houston would be tied 2-2 with Boston in the finals? The Rockets. Who believes Houston can win the championship? Right. The Rockets.
The Rocket players gathered all their good-luck talismans and stuffed them into their duffel bags for the opening two-game trip to Boston. They had their record-tying seven playoff road victories, the cosmic energy they had presumably picked up during a visit by space shuttle Pilot Bob Crippen and the miracle from on high conjured up by Brother Dominic of Xerox TV commercial fame.
"Brother Dominic turned the season around for us in November," said Houston publicist Jim Foley. "He was at a game when we were behind the Lakers by 19 in the third quarter. Brother Dominic looked to Heaven and we won the game. Next thing, he was hugging Moses Malone in the locker room."
Rocket Coach Del Harris was clearly delighted to be in a race he figured to be out of long ago. Houston had finished 40-42 in the regular season and had become only the third sub -.500 club in league history to reach the finals. "We've been written off more times than a Cape Cod cottage," he said, recalling the wit, not to mention the snow-white hairdo, of erstwhile presidential candidate John Anderson. Obviously, Harris knew that he couldn't finish third.
Thanks to CBS (the Camouflaged Basketball Service) and the miracle of delayed videotape, the telecasts of the Rockets taking out San Antonio and Kansas City in succession were aired when many of those who cared—in Texas and elsewhere—were fast asleep.
One late-night TV freak was Captain Video, a/k/a Boston Coach Bill Fitch. Fitch had recently become an insomniac, partly because of a sore sciatic nerve, partly out of fear of flying—one-way back to Cleveland, whose Cavaliers he previously coached, should the Celtics lose the series to a team they had beaten 13 straight times over the past two years. Thus, there was little chortling from Fitch after Boston narrowly escaped with a 98-95 victory in Game 1.
Still, Boston was able to beat Houston at its own ugly walk-the-ball-up game that permits the Rockets to send Malone after offensive rebounds as though they were so many gold nuggets. The Celtics all but obliterated Malone this time. He got just five of his 15 rebounds and five of his 13 points in the second half. Overall, Boston beat the Rockets on the offensive boards 25-19. "That was the ball game," said Fitch.