The Boston Celtics showed a Capital Centre sellout crowd last night why they have the best record in the National Basketball Association. They toyed with the Washington Bullets for the first half and blew by them in the third period on their way to an impressive 119-103 victory.
The Celtics won their 40th of 53 games. They won for the fifth time in their last, six, all without all-star center Dave Cowens, who is out with a bruised foot hone.
The crowd came out to see Larry Bird and the sensational Celtic rookie did nothing to disappoint anyone. He scored 24 points on 11 of 17 shots from the field and amassed 13 rebounds and five assists.
Washington, without floor leader Jim Cleamons, who has a virus, led at halftime 50-46, and had a 64-62 edge with 7:06 left in the third period.
Then the Celtics took wing. Almost as if them had been only limbering up until then, they outscored the Bullets by 24-6 the rest of the quarter and took a commanding, 86-70 margin into the final quarter.
Rick Robey, shooting six for six in the third period, started the break-away spurt with a tying layup after the Celtics grabbed four straight offensive rebounds. Two Nate Archibald free throws countered by a Larry Wright jumper evened the score at 66.
Bird and Robey then combined on an 11-0 run that was a thing of beauty. Bird started it with a 21-foot jumper from the left corner. On two straight Bullet misses, Bird grabbed the rebounds and fed Robey for fast-break dunks. Then, after Wes Unseld committed an offensive foul, Bird drilled in a three-point basket from the deep corner.
The Bullets missed again with Bird rebounding and dribbling three-quarters the length of the floor before looking to his left and zipping a blind pass to his right to Robey for another dunk.
That gave the Celties a 77-66 bulge and it was downhill the rest of the way.
In the quarter, Bird went four for five and had 10 points, seven rebounds and four assists.
As a team, the Celtics made 17 of 23 third-quarter shots, 74 percent accuracy. They were 31 of 45 in the second half, 69 percent.
"We just got the ball off the boards and down the court quick," said Bird. "That's how you're supposed to play the game."
Boston Coach Bill Fitch remarked, "Larry had a great third quarter, but you come to expect that, I think Robey (Chris) Ford, (Cedric) Maxwell and (Gerald) Henderson made it more than just the Larry Bird show."
The Bullets wasted a big lift from Wright, the quick guard who was the difference in the first half.
For the game, Wright made eight of 11 shots, had 19 points and three assists. Bob Dandridge was high Bullet with 20 points and he and Bird, dueling, made for an interesting sideshow.
Bird had more help.
Elvin Hayes, coming off a season-high 38 points in Wednesday's one-point victory over the Indiana Pacers, scored only 15 as the long-armed Maxwell kept him pretty well bottled up.
Hayes bruised his right shoulder in the third period and sat out most of it. He came back with 1:49 left and the Bullets down, 81-68, picked up three personals, two on offense, in 40 seconds and fouled out.
The Celtics, 3-1 over the Bullets this season, have left a lasting impression on Washington Coach Dick Motta.
"I like to watch them play," he said "They're classic. They talk to each other out there on the floor and everything. And that Larry Bird is something else. He's a player's player, a coach's player and a fan's player. It's hard to think of anyone else who is all three."
This was both the Bullets' and the Celtics' third game in three nights. The Bullets lost two of theirs and break for Sunday's All-StarGame with a 23-29 record. They are in fourth place in the Atlantic Division, with the New York Knicks and Houston Rockets ahead of them in the battle for sixth and bottom playoff spot in the Eastern Conference.
Even without Cowens, the Celtics outrebounded the Bullets, 47-38.
The balanced visitors placed seven scores in double figures, Henderson, a 6-2 rookie from Virginia Commonwealth, was notably impressive.
Archilbald was having problems trying to contain the much quicker Wright so Fitch called on Henderson. He responded with 12 points, five assists and no turnover in 22 minutes.
Greg Ballard added some excitement with a trio of three-point baskets in the final quarter, but the game was long gone.