The Boston Celtics dispatched the Milwaukee Bucks from the Eastern Conference finals so emphatically that there's only one way to describe the Celtics as they chug into the NBA championship series for the third consecutive year. They are a team with heart (or, as Bostonians say it, haaaaaht), and not just stripper Busty Heart, the Celtic fan with the speed-limit bosom.
For evidence, you need only look at the second quarter of Game 1 of the Celts' four-game sweep. (The Bucks will prefer that you skip over the first 12 minutes, in which they scored only 12 points, tying a playoff record for first-period ineptitude.) The score was 41-14 when Boston's Kevin McHale and Milwaukee's Alton Lister squared off briefly. As soon as fists were raised, the entire Celtic team was up, ready for action—but not one bench-bound Buck stirred. Evidently Milwaukee wasn't just battle-weary from its seven-game conference semifinal series with Philadelphia, but battle-wary, too. Boston romped 128-96.
The Bucks remained bamboozled in Game 2, even with Sidney Moncrief back and playing gallantly on a sore heel. Coach Don Nelson couldn't even draw a technical foul when he tried to rally his team with some choice invective against referee Lee Jones in the first half. "Lee, did you hear me?" he finally yelled at Jones. "Or did you miss it?" That earned Nellie his T, but it didn't do much good. Aside from the three-quarter-court heave by guard Dennis Johnson (see story, page 32), the Celtics' 122-111 win was one for the clinicians: Each starter scored at least 20 points, and nearly three of every four Boston hoops resulted from assists. Yet the Boston fans seemed ho-hum about it all. "They're getting cocky, just like us," Larry Bird clucked. "They're starting to act like a Laker crowd."
A change of venue—from the Garden parquet to the Mecca "parfait," as one Beantown wag dubbed the Milwaukee arena's motley floor—did not help the Bucks either. Though Moncrief was magnificent in Game 3, limping for 24 points, Boston pulled ahead for the first time in the 41st minute and won 111-107. "We played it like a seventh [game]," said Nelson. "I do know we played as hard as we could. We can't play any better."
May 25, 1986
Nelson was right. Game 3, it turned out, was the Bucks' best effort of the series. Sunday's finale at Milwaukee was a routine Celtic victory, with Danny Ainge springing for 25 points, and Bird dropping in four three-pointers—Boston sank eight overall—during the final 4:06. Bird's last one, an afterthought launched literally on the way to the locker room, made the final score 111-98. Said Nelson, "I'm not so sure Boston isn't just on a different planet than us mere mortal teams."
The Celtics will host the odd game of the championship series on the rare earth of their Garden, where they have lost only once in 44 outings during the regular season and playoffs. To deprive Boston of its 16th title, the Rockets or Lakers will have to do something that has become close to impossible. Perhaps Jack Ramsay is the only man who knows how to railroad Boston in North Station, inasmuch as Ramsay's Trail Blazers won there by the now incomprehensible score of 121-103 back on Pearl Harbor Day Eve, 1985. "They do have a tremendous homecourt advantage," says Nelson. "But it's not the building. It's the team."
Indeed, even with Scott Wedman waylaid by a couple of broken ribs suffered on Saturday, the Celtics want for nothing, other than perhaps to spend a little post-championship time out in the sun. "They have great size, but they also have the skill level to get shots inside," says the Bucks' Paul Mokeski. "And that's just the half of it, because almost everyone on that team can shoot outside. The matchups are impossible. You have to put your big guys on [Robert] Parish and McHale, or you get burned, so your third-biggest guy goes on Bird. And if that guy's small, Bird just posts him up. If he's big, Bird just goes outside. It's pretty awesome."
Before she sent 12 long-stemmed red roses to the Celtics' locker room last Thursday, Busty Heart had occasion to ruminate on the Bucks in The Boston Globe. "Milwaukee," she wondered. "Aren't they the doughnut team? The team without a center?"
Yes, ma'am, those are...were the Bucks. With the doughnut dunked, Boston has to be considered the favorite to finish off L.A.'s Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, or Houston's Ralph Sampson and Akeem Olajuwon. It seemed only a matter of whether the Celtics would have to concern themselves with one cruller or two.