After a week of idleness, it took the Boston Celtics more than half the game to get revved up today. Once they did, they cruised by the Washington Bullets, 109-91, with a convincing show of strength, depth and versatility.
In taking a 1-0 lead in this best-of-seven series without significant contributions from Larry Bird and Robert Parish, the Celtics clearly demonstrated why they finished the regular season with the best record in basketball and are a heavy favorite to be the first team to win back-to-back National Basketball Association championships in 12 years.
M.L. Carr, Rick Robey and Kevin McHale made the difference as the Celtics pulled away from the Bullets late in the third period after trailing by two points at halftime.
The series will be resumed at 8:10 p.m. Wednesday in Boston Garden. Games 3 and 4 will be at Capital Centre Saturday and Sunday afternoons.
With Greg Ballard smothering Bird and the Bullets controlling the tempo, making it a slowdown, half-court game, the Bullets trailed by only 66-62 with 2:58 left in the third period.
At that point, Robey and McHale entered the game for Parish and Bird. Together, Bird and Parish had made only nine of 26 shots.
Parish never returned and Bird came back only after the outcome had been decided.
Robey was on the floor 15 seconds when he scored on a left-handed hook and was fouled by Jeff Ruland. He converted the three-point play and the Bullets never recovered. Robey went on to score 10 points and grab five rebounds, three offensive, playing the game's final 15 minutes. McHale finished with 16 points.
"We had to pick the right spot to play Robey," said Boston Coach Bill Fitch. "Robert (Parish) played pretty well, but he was tired, so we got Thump and Bump going with Robey and McHale. I couldn't be more pleased with the way Rick played today."
With Robey working inside and McHale making short turnaround jumpers, the Celtics quickly opened a 20-point lead and coasted in. McHale finished with 16 points.
"I thought they (the Celtics) would be sluggish to start because they've been off for a week, and they were," said Bullet Coach Gene Shue. "We felt we had a real good chance to win this game. This is really discouraging because Bird and Parish weren't factors and we still couldn't beat them."
The Celtics clinched the best record in the NBA weeks ago, so Fitch played the last five regular-season games as if it were the exhibition season, starting a different lineup each game and trying to get equal playing time for everyone.
But today he went back to his set lineup of Bird and Cedric Maxwell at forwards, Parish at center and Carr and Tiny Archibald at guard.
Only Carr, who finished with a game-high 21 points, shot well early. He scored 10 first-quarter points to keep the Celtics close while the Celtics worked off a bit of rust and tried to adjust to the Bullets' trapping defenses.
An 11-2 scoring spurt at the outset of the second quarter gave the Bullets their biggest lead of the game, 38-31. Rick Mahorn had four of the points and Kevin Grevey three.
Bird scored four of his 10 points in the last three minutes of the half, but the Bullets still had a 52-50 lead at halftime.
Bird was also having his troubles on defense. His man, Spencer Haywood, scored 15 points and had four blocked shots in the first half. But Haywood managed only two more points in the second half.
"We have no excuses for the first half," said Fitch. "They got us into playing their game and we couldn't beat them at it."
Carr opened the second half with a fast-break basket to tie the score and Parish put the Celtics ahead on a crunching dunk. The score was tied twice after that, the last time at 56 on a layup by Ballard. A 17-footer by Archibald put the Celtics ahead to stay a minute later.
Carr, who became a starter the last quarter of the season after back spasms sidelined Chris Ford, scored on a driving layup around three Bullets and was fouled in the process. His successful three-point play put the Celtics ahead, 63-58.
The Bullets hardly helped themselves by shooting 24 percent in the third quarter, hitting only five of 21 from the field. They were getting decent shots, but they weren't falling.
Ballard, who guarded Bird and finished with 10 points, made only five of 14 shots. By the fourth period, all of his misses were short, a sign of fatigue.
"Playing defense on Bird takes a lot out of you," said Ballard, who was also bothered by a chest cold today. "You have to concentrate on him all of the time. You have to overplay him and deny him the ball, and when he gets it you have to get right up on him. Even when he doesn't have the ball, you have to make sure you screen him off the boards."
Haywood insisted the Bullets' seventh straight loss to the Celtics without a victory this season won't have a lasting effect on his teammates.
"They still have to win three more games," he said. "We don't like to be in front anyway. We do better when our backs are against the wall."