There are definitely bodies in the NBA more attractive than that of the Boston Celtics' Kevin McHale. Standing 6 feet 10, McHale has a barrel chest and arms that seem to hang down endlessly. There's also something distinctly unattractive about his game. Loitering about the lane, McHale scores most of his points from within five feet.
Yet, despite the absence of soaring dunks, a la the Lakers' James Worthy, or a magnificent sky hook like Kareem Abdul-Jabbar's, McHale has been the defending champion Celtics' most effective performer in this season's title series. A 28-point, 12-rebound effort in Boston's 107-105 last-second victory Wednesday night in Game 4 was just another in a string of strong efforts.
For the series, tied at 2-2, McHale is averaging 25 points and 9.5 rebounds. "He's 6-10 but his arms are so long that he plays like he's 7-4," said Los Angeles Coach Pat Riley.
McHale is confident the series, which continues Friday (WDVM-TV-9, 9 p.m.), has turned in Boston's favor. "If they don't win on Friday, things will be tough, tough, tough for them," he said. "Things are still that way for us, too, but we still get to go back to Boston."
McHale's words today lacked their customary bite, the element of sarcasm that endears him to many media members but not to the opposition. "There are times when you go to the zoo and you throw peanuts to the monkeys, but they run away to the back of the cage and won't come out," he said. "They just get tired of it sometimes. That's how I am. It's nothing personal. I'm just a little tired."
One reason for his fatigue was that the fifth-year veteran played all 48 minutes of Game 4, which left him "with the kind of tired where it's hard to get to sleep.
"People talk about how important it is to have a deep bench but that's only in the middle of the season when you're on a long road trip. At this time of year, your best people are going to play more because you're playing for the championship."
McHale, recently named for the second straight year as the NBA's best sixth man, has been a steady performer since replacing Cedric Maxwell in the starting lineup late in the regular season.
"He causes a lot of problems for the opposition," said teammate Larry Bird. "He's such a quick scorer that teams have to double-team him and nobody in the league can cover him one-on-one."
Despite his unusual appearance on the floor, McHale is one of the soundest players in basketball, according to the Lakers' Mitch Kupchak.
"If you were running a summer camp and had to teach someone how to play in the pivot, he would be the person I'd choose," Kupchak said. "He knows all the moves and the right ways to avoid defenders. If you lean on him one way, he just rolls off of you in the opposite direction."
McHale, though, is beyond trying to analyze his individual game, saying that the players who talk about technique "only drive themselves into a slump worrying about what they're doing. I just go out and work hard to get good position. I read somewhere once that the more I practice, the luckier I'll get."
Neither the Lakers nor the Celtics spent much time practicing today, each squad preferring to view films of Game 4 and to walk through the other's plays.
"(Friday's) game will show a lot about the class and character of these teams," said Bird, who had 26 points, 11 rebounds, five assists, three steals and two blocked shots Wednesday. "Each game gets more important the longer it goes, guys will start missing shots that they normally hit and make turnovers that they usually don't. You really don't have to worry about the people that beat you in the first or second games."
One of the Lakers who didn't perform as well late in last season's title series was Magic Johnson. But the all-star guard, who had a triple-double of points, assists and rebounds Wednesday, said that won't be the case this time around.
"There are no thoughts, no comparisons to last year at all," he said. "We're a more confident team, a stronger-minded team than we were a year ago. I know I am."