Apparently not content with being the finest team in the NBA, the Boston Celtics seem determined to hammer that fact into each of their opponents as they continue their powerful bid for a 16th NBA championship.
Tonight, one week after eliminating the Atlanta Hawks from the Eastern Conference semifinals with a record-setting, 36-6 third-quarter burst, the Celtics opened the conference finals with a 128-96 victory over the Milwaukee Bucks.
In extending their home record this season to 46-1 before the 266th consecutive sellout at Boston Garden, the Celtics had 26 points from Larry Bird, 17 from Kevin McHale and double-figure production from four other players. The Bucks were led by Kenny Fields' 18 points.
The only difference between tonight's game and the treatment of Atlanta last week was that the Celtics set their records tonight right from the start. The Bucks began the game fresh from setting a league record for field goal accuracy in a seven-game series, a 51.7 percent mark in their semifinal series win over the Philadelphia 76ers.
Tonight, in the first 12 minutes, the 12 Milwaukee players hit only four of 23 shots and scored a total of 12 points, which tied six other teams for an NBA record for futility in the opening period of a conference final.
"I don't know if we were as bad as they made us look. I hope not," said Milwaukee Coach Don Nelson. "It seemed like there was a big hand in front of every shot we took."
For the game, the Bucks shot 38 percent from the field, the kind of statistic that goes a long way toward helping a talented team establish dominance over another. The more misses, the more rebounds available. More rebounds bring on more fast break opportunities. More fast break opportunities lead to more easy baskets.
Enjoying a 58-40 dominance on the backboards (guard Danny Ainge -- of all people -- led the way with 10), the Celtics were credited with 20 fast break points. There were another 54 points scored on layups and shots from the lane.
"We wanted to establish the habit of pushing the ball up the court. It worked out for us tonight," said Boston Coach K.C. Jones. "We don't expect Milwaukee to shoot that cold the next game, though."
Even so, it's still hard to envision what the Bucks can do to make up 32 points in Game 2 here Thursday. Hard-pressed to find any sort of bright spot, Nelson offered: "I'm glad we didn't burn up Sidney Moncrief, who sat out the game because of torn tissue in his left heel . I don't think he would have had much of an effect in this one."
Those who fall prey to flights of fancy will point out that the outcome of tonight's game was actually in doubt for a time. The Celtics, perhaps a bit rusty after their week off, were just as bad as the Bucks in the early going, taking more than 5 1/2 minutes to reach double figures.
"They were still better than us," said Bucks forward Terry Cummings. "We might have been trying too hard. . . . What happens is you're so up that you don't do much of anything right. That's not to take anything away from Boston, though; their second team was great tonight."
That the outer reaches of the Boston bench got plenty of playing time was a direct result of the performances of Bird, McHale and Dennis Johnson (14 points, seven assists). Starting center Robert Parish picked up three personal fouls in the first eight minutes of play. That merely presented an opening for Bill Walton, who scored 11 points with seven rebounds through the end of the half.
Trailing, 60-38, at intermission, the Bucks went on a 16-8 run at the start of the second half to cut their deficit to 68-54 with 7:50 to play in the third period. The next nine points were scored by the Celtics, including a three-point field goal by Bird, which effectively ended any lingering sense of drama.