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"Thought he looked O.K.," said the reporter.
"I think he looked a little stiff," said McHale. "But you know what? He'll be all right. He knows all these people are here to see him. He has a sense of that, even if he'd never admit it. It motivates him. I think we look at the road the same way—as a chance to come into somebody else's building and bust 'em. I know I still feel that way. And when you do it, it's the greatest feeling."
McHale's view of Bird was, as usual, right on the money. At home, under the constant mental burden of being Larry Bird, he tended to shun off-court commitments and quite frequently ducked out on the press at Boston Garden, but the road seemed to liberate him. There would be new faces, new routines, new hotel coffee shops, maybe a Tony Roma's rib house around the corner. Bird would frequently stiff the press at home but then talk for an hour to a reporter from a remote newspaper in the state of Washington during a road trip.
"Something's really going to go out of this franchise when Larry leaves," continued McHale, bouncing a ball at his feet. "And, I guess, to a lesser extent, Robert [Parish] and me, too. But mostly Larry. They're really going to lack a guy like that, somebody who's got that something special, you know? Every good team has to have one. Magic [Johnson] in L.A., Larry here, Charles [Barkley] in Philly. I really believe Reggie, Brian [Shaw] and Dee are going to be good. Real good. But they're going to need that other element, that element of toughness, something special."
McHale looked over and saw Shaw and Brown schmoozing with Seattle rookie Gary Payton, a point guard against whom they would both soon be testing their skills. "We never used to talk to guys before the game," said McHale. "Yeah, I'm known for being friendly and all that, and I do some talking, but not when I was young and never to a guy I was going against. You kind of went by and maybe said 'How ya doin'?' to kind of psych him out."
He pointed at Brown. "That dunk contest will be great for that kid because the one thing he lacked was confidence. I know Dee looks confident on the outside, but you can tell the way he hangs his head out there once in a while that he isn't completely confident. He talks it, but he doesn't walk it. I don't know what it was with guys like Larry and me—maybe we were sick or something—but we didn't go through that. I know Larry didn't, and I know I didn't. I felt every single night I was out there I was better than the other guy. Even when I was a rookie."
The game was entertaining if not well played, though the Celtics took control in the second half. Late in the third period McHale suddenly emerged from a pack of players, hobbling across the court toward the Boston bench, having turned his left ankle badly. Trainer Ed Lacerte led him into the dressing room—"Oh no, not again" was Ford's initial reaction—and McHale's absence in the fourth period stalled the Celtics' attack. Seattle led by two points with 5:12 left when Bird took a typically nervy three-point shot that went in and put the Celtics up by one. But Seattle forward Eddie Johnson, who can put points on the board rapidly, hit two improbable three-point shots in the final minutes, and the Celtics led by just 112-111 with 14.6 seconds left. Boston inbounded to Bird, who was immediately fouled. The noise level was close to unbearable. As Bird settled in at the free throw line, Johnson stood behind him and waved to the fans, imploring them to yell even louder, which they did. They were wasting their breath. Bird swished the first shot, then the second, and the Celts held on for a 114-111 win.
"I learned a long time ago to drain out crowd noise," said Bird after the game. "I don't hear it. I didn't feel that comfortable at the line because I hadn't shot many free throws recently. But I'd rather have me at that line than anybody else." He smiled, but he meant it, too.
Lewis and Shaw were talking about an awe-inspiring dunk by Sonics forward Shawn Kemp. Kemp took off from just in front of the free throw line, soared over several players and jammed the ball into the hoop.
"Never saw anything like it," said Shaw. "Absolutely big-time."