This was Don Nelson's day in the state of Wisconsin. But the memory of what was officially proclaimed "Nellie Day" will not be a fond one.
Nelson's Milwaukee Bucks did all they could, and Sidney Moncrief may have done more than he should have. But it was of little consequence after they lost, 111-107, to the Boston Celtics today in front of 11,052 at Milwaukee Arena.
The Celtics, who ensured the win with a 13-3 run inside the final 7 1/2 minutes, lead the best-of-seven NBA Eastern Conference final series by 3-0 and can end it here Sunday in Game 4.
The Celtics had 10 fourth-quarter points from Robert Parish, and that helped them take their first lead of the day at 94-92 with 7:49 remaining in the game. Then they pulled away and led by 10 with 2:13 left.
"This was some kind of present for Nellie Day," said Nelson. "But we gave it our best shot. We played this game like it was the seventh game, and I don't know if we can play any better than we played for most of the game.
"I just don't know if down the stretch the Celtics didn't turn it up a notch. We tried as hard as we could, but it wasn't even close in the fourth quarter. I have no regrets or complaints. We really gave it our best effort."
No team has recovered from a 3-0 deficit to win the Eastern Conference title.
"It's hard to say anything at this point," Nelson said about the prospects for Sunday. "But I did let my team know that I wanted to win tomorrow and have the same effort."
Parish finished with 28 points, one fewer than teammate Kevin McHale, who led all scorers. Larry Bird had 19 points and doled out 13 assists, including a few that should be saved on film for the day he is inducted into the Hall of Fame.
"We played great defense, especially in the second half, and we made the extra pass, moved the ball three or four times and got the easy shots," said Bird. "We made our move at the right time, and things really started clicking with three or four minutes left."
If Moncrief plays Sunday, it will be only because of his sheer determination. His inspired play got the Bucks rolling in the first half, but by the end of the game, he was limping badly on his sore heel.
"I doubt if Sidney can play tomorrow," Nelson said. "But then, I doubted that he could play today."
Moncrief had a bit brighter prognosis. "I feel pretty good . . . a little tired and frustrated, though," he said. "But my body has reacted well in the last week.
"I don't look at [Sunday's] game as a game of pride. Our team should think about winning and believe in ourselves. We played our game for three quarters as well as we've played for a long time."
The Celtics will be without reserve forward Scott Wedman, who cracked two ribs when he was accidentally kneed by Terry Cummings and is lost for the series.
Asked about the loss of Wedman, who usually provides him with a rest, Bird said: "Better him than me."
Moncrief, who finished with 24 points, let it be known early that he was going to give it his best shot, even if he wasn't up to his usual brilliance.
After Paul Pressey made a drive through the lane to give Milwaukee a 2-0 lead, Moncrief, hustling to break up a Celtics pass, leaped over the Boston bench into the $19 seats and received his second loud ovation.
It certainly wouldn't be the last. The six-year veteran hobbled his way to 15 first-quarter points. They came from inside and outside -- he went two for two from three-point range in the period -- as the Bucks built a 35-32 lead after the first period.
The Bucks led by 60-53 after two quarters and by 87-82 after three, but in the second half could not keep up their frenetic pace.
Cummings scored after an offensive rebound to give Milwaukee an 89-82 lead in the first minute of the fourth quarter, but the Celtics proceeded to wipe away the edge, doing it as they always do -- fast-breaking, with good inside passing and defense.
Bird dove into a pile of bodies seeking a loose ball. He came up with it, and while seated, fed McHale underneath.
Pressey sank a free throw to make it 90-84, but the Celtics then scored six in a row. Jerry Sichting hit from the left corner and almost got in a shoving match a moment after taking a charge from Cummings.
The Celtics went inside to Parish, who cut the lead to 90-88 with 9:52 to go. And, moments after McHale blocked Alton Lister's shot, Parish made a 16-footer to tie the game at 90 with 8:47 left.
Lister made two free throws for what would be Milwaukee's last lead, 92-90, with 8:34 to go. Cummings, who led the Bucks with 27 points, hit a 15-footer for a 94-94 tie with 7:30 to go. But the Celtics closed them down with on a 13-3 run for a 107-97 lead with 2:13 left.