On the surface, it looks like one of the biggest mismatches in the history of the National Basketball Association championship finals.
After all, we're talking about THE Boston Celtics, the team with the incomparable Larry Bird, the tradition, the mystique and the miracle finishes, against the "where did they come from?" Houston Rockets, an average team with no auras and little tradition. There doesn't seem to be much to suggest the best-of-seven final series, opening here Tuesday night (WDVM-TV-9, 11:30 p.m., taped), will progress beyond four or five games.
"Say what?" blurted Houston's Calvin Murphy, the mighty mite 5-foot-9 guard of the quick shot and fast mouth. "We aren't afraid of the Celtics or any other team. We're glad to be in the finals, but we plan to win, too. Nobody said we'd get this far and here we are. I don't care how much better they're supposed to be or how rough they are, we aren't backing down or giving in. We're ready to play."
The Rockets are the first NBA team to make it this far after a losing (40-42) regular-season record. They beat the defending champion Los Angeles Lakers, 2-1, in the first round of the playoffs, the San Antonio Spurs, 4-3, in the second round and the Kansas City Kings, 4-1, in the Western Conference championship series, to bring them into the finals with an accumulative record of 50-47. They've been resting since eliminating the Kings last Wednesday.
The Celtics shared the best regular season record in the league with the 76ers, 62-20, did away with the Chicago Bulls in four straight in their first playoff round and then were pushed to seven games in their titanic battle with the 76ers which ended with their dramatic 91-90 victory Sunday.
Game 2 also will be in Boston Garden, Thursday night, and the series shifts to the Summit in Houston for Games 3 and 4 Saturday and Sunday afternoons.
If further games are necessary, they will be played Tuesday, May 12, in Boston, Thursday, May 14, in Houston and the seventh game in Boston Sunday, May 17.
CBS will televise all games of the series, but said the midweek games will be delayed and aired at 11:30 p.m. EDT. Weekend games will be shown live.
The Celtics appear to have the Rockets' number, having beaten them 13 straight times.
M. L. Carr, Boston's answer to Murphy, loves to play and he loves to talk about playing.
"We don't feel we've won the championship just because we already beat Philadelphia," he said. "We still have to win four more games. If we go into this series thinking it's over, then it will be over and there are going to be a lot of unhappy people in Boston.
"We've been up so high emotionally for so long because it was the 76ers we were playing that we need a rest -- a rest for our minds more than our bodies."
But there was only one day's rest before Moses and Co.
Just as they geared their defense to stop Julius Erving against the 76ers, they will gear it to stopping Moses Malone in the championship series.
Celtic Coach Bill Fitch has a penchant for saying one thing and doing another, so what he says he will do against Malone isn't really relevant. What he probably will do is double-team Malone whenever he gets the ball inside and use all five of his big men to lean on him.
If ever a team was equipped physically to take on Malone, it's Boston with 7-foot Robert Parish, 6-9 Bird, 6-8 Cedric Maxwell, 6-10 Rick Robey, 6-10 Kevin McHale and 6-10 Eric Fernsten to rotate on him.
The Rockets are going to have a tough time defensing Bird. Because of his outside shot, he is virtually impossible to double-team.
Barring a surprise move by Houston's Del Harris, the only Rocket who could possibly deal with Bird is Robert Reid, a 6-8 swing man.