"If you'd ask just about anyone in America who'd win this series, they'd say it'd be us in four or five games. Deep down inside, that's probably what we thought, too. We were wrong. This series could be as tough as any we've ever had." -- Boston Celtic forward Cedric Maxwell
The Houston Rockets have made believers out of the Celtics.
"Everybody comes around eventually," said Rocket guard Calvin Murphy. "I know it's tough on all of these charismatic, running teams to have to play us and our style of ball and they're all finding out that we mean business. Boston knows now that we're serious."
The Rockets rebounded from a three-point loss Tuesday for a 92-90 vicotry Thursday at Boston Garden to even the NBA championship series at 1-1.
The next two games of the best-of-seven series will be at the Summit in Houston Saturday and Sunday. Both games will be televised live (WDVM-TV-9 at 3:35 Saturday and at 1:05 Sunday).
"We were close to coming home 2-0," said Billy Paultz. "That would have been the dream of dreams."
The biggest difference in the first two games was Moses Malone. In the first game, he made only four of 17 shots and didn't assert himself the way he can, scoring only 13 points. Thursday, Malone scored 31 points and had 15 rebounds, seven offensive.
"I don't think I ever had a bad game," said Malone. "Sometimes, the shots don't go in, that's all. I just made sure they went in Thursday."
"We got the ball to Moses quickly and let him challenge their defense," said Coach Del Harris. "Before, we passed and reacted to their defense. In Game 2, we got it right to Moses and let the defense react to him."
It didn't react very well.
Malone fouled out Robert Parish in 14 minutes and worked over Kevin McHale and Rick Robey for a total of nine fouls between them.
This Celtic-Rocket confrontation is, stylistically, a classic one. The Celtics run, the Rockets walk; the Celtics play wide open and fancy, the Rockets methodically and conservatively.
The Celtics haven't been able to entice the Rockets into playing their style of game and they haven't been able to adjust to Houston's grind-it-out approach. The Celtic offense is high-risk; the Rockets play the percentages with every possession.
The Celtics have outscored the Rockets on the fast break, 50-13, in the two games, but the Rockets have made up the difference by not turning over the ball. They've committed only 19 turnovers in the two games compared with 41 for the Celtics. Boston turnovers have led to 41 Houston points while the Rockets have been burned for only 23 points off their turnovers.
"We've been making bad decisions," said Boston's M. L. Carr. "We're anxious on our fast breaks and we aren't getting the ball to the right people. We have to keep pressure on them and force some turnovers. With our running game, we have to make some adjustments at the defensive end. Against Philadelphia, it was different, because they were looking to run as much as we were. With Houston, we know they aren't going to run, so we have to set up and play a team defense every time down the floor and we just aren't used to doing that."
Larry Bird and reserve Gerald Henderson have been the only consistent Celts through the first two games. Bird got 21 rebounds in each and averaged 18.5 points and six assists. However, he also committed 10 turnovers.
Henderson, getting more playing time because Tiny Archibald is hobbling on a bad foot and ankle, has made nine of 14 shots in the two games.
Archibald hasn't been playing well because of the injury, which he suffered in the sixth game of the 76er series. He's made only eight of 31 shots in the last two contests and has a total of nine assists. Archibald missed an open 17-footer with three seconds left Thursday, enabling the Rockets to hold on for their two-point victory.
Going into that game, the Celtics had beaten Houston 14 straight games.