It hardly was a joyous scene in the Boston dressing room. The mood clearly was one of relief, with the hope that the next playoff series would not be as difficult as the battle with the Bullets.
"They pushed us to the limit, no question about that," said Kevin McHale, whose follow-up of Nate Archibald's wild shot with one second left in the first overtime prevented an upset by Washington.
"We just could never put them away," the second-year forward continued. "No matter what we did, they kept coming back. We just couldn't dominate them."
McHale admitted that his tying basket was a matter of chance. It came after Larry Bird tied up Frank Johnson, forcing a jump ball. The Celtics gained possession, but the Bullets' defense played well, and with time running out, Archibald threw up a seemingly hopeless shot. It bounced off the backboard, and McHale pushed it back in to send the game into a second overtime.
"I don't know if Tiny had that in mind, but he got the ball in the right spot," McHale said.
The Celtics were using their big lineup, with Cedric Maxwell and McHale at forwards, Robert Parish at center and Larry Bird at guard.
"They were all crashing the boards," said Bullet Jeff Ruland, who had a career-high 33 points, plus 13 rebounds. "You can't keep them all off, and you can't blame one person."
"Ruland had a great game," said Parish, who led the Celtics' scoring with 33 points, giving him 117 for the five-game series (a 23.4 average).
The Bullets were leading, 125-123, when Ruland made a power move and Parish seemed to pin the ball on the backboard. No call was made and the Celtics went downcourt and tied on a spin hook by McHale.
"I thought it was goaltending," Ruland said. "I was trying to take it to Parish because he had five fouls, but no one play made the difference. When you play Boston, you have to get so many points ahead because they can come back and do so much so fast."
The Bullets regained the lead on one of two free throws by Frank Johnson, but the Celtics went ahead to stay on a driving layin by Gerald Henderson and then sealed the series when Parish made a three-point play after getting a missed shot by McHale with 41 seconds left.
"We could never relax, the way Frank Johnson was throwing up those three-pointers," Parish said. "We weren't expecting three-pointers with so much time on the clock (2:52 when Johnson made the first of three straight bonus shots)."
Fitch said he replaced Archibald and Bird with 2:50 left in the second overtime with Henderson and M.L. Carr because "It was time for fresh bodies. I was looking for the whip, I had rested bodies, and M.L. and Gerry have come through for us many times."
So, in the end of this physically exhausting, emotionally draining, surprising series, it was the Celtics' depth, as many predicted, that made the difference. With the exception of Ruland, the Bullets' reserves scored 11 points, compared with 29 for Boston's bench.