Larry Bird scored eight of his game-high 26 points and Quinn Buckner all six of his in the final 3 1/2 minutes last night, rallying the host Boston Celtics to victory, 103-95, over the Atlanta Hawks in their National Basketball Association playoff opener.
Boston can eliminate Atlanta by winning Game 2 of the best-of-three series Friday night in Atlanta. A third game would be played Sunday in Boston.
Bird, given a brief rest early in the fourth period, came back to regroup the Celtics after the Hawks had charged from an eight-point deficit to a four-point lead.
The Celtics, playing their first important game in nearly three months, trailed, 85-81, when Bird reentered with 6:38 to play. Kevin McHale banked in a turnaround shot and Bird fed Nate Archibald for a layup and a tie at 85 with 5:11 to play.
After Dan Roundfield dunked for an 87-85 Atlanta edge, the Celtics scored the next six points, on two jump shots by Buckner around two free throws by Bird that broke the sixth tie of the fourth quarter. Ahead, 91-87, with 2:54 to play, the Celtics would not be caught.
The Hawks cut the lead to two points on their next two possessions, but Bird answered each time, with a layup and two foul shots. The Hawks never got closer than four points the rest of the way.
"Atlanta played very hard, but we played playoff defense at the end," Boston Coach Bill Fitch said.
"Dominique (Wilkins) did a good job on defense, but no one man can stop Larry Bird," Atlanta Coach Kevin Loughery remarked. "We were right in the game, we had the shots we wanted. I can't complain about this game except for the outcome."
Robert Parish scored 18 points, Cedric Maxwell 13 and McHale 12. Bird grabbed 15 rebounds.