In the dressing room, Akeem Olajuwon was saying: "One on one, I can take anybody, but they threw everybody at me out there. I'd look around and it was a different guy all the time."

He looked around once more, cautiously, as though half expecting Bill Walton to suddenly come slashing through the herd of reporters and swat away his next remark.

Olajuwon had been brilliant Monday, with 33 points, 12 rebounds, two assists and three blocked shots. Trouble is, all that got the Rockets in Game 1 of the NBA's championship series was a standoff at the center position.

As everyone has slowly discovered this season, the Boston Celtics have a center who slips on his trunks one leg at a time but who isn't quite like any other giant.

The odd thing about the Celtics' center is that he has four legs, 12 fouls to give and -- in spite of being 65 years of age -- almost never gets tuckered. Oh, yes, the Celtics center also has two names: Robert Parish and Bill Walton. He's the reason for all the cockiness around Boston Garden.

Let's go over those Olajuwon numbers once more: 33 points, 12 rebounds, two assists and three blocked shots. The four-armed Celtics center countered with: 33 points, 12 rebounds, four assists and three blocked shots.

What made matters lopsided was that the Boston center had teammates who didn't treat the basketball as though it were a frying pan in several pressure situations. Boston was credited with four more steals, although it seemed more like 44.

Also, the Celtics' center got the better of the officiating. Or so it seemed to at least two sets of eyes, mine and Olajuwon's.

Olajuwon said he didn't mind having to do battle with Parish lots of times down the court, with Walton lots of other times down the court, with Kevin McHale every so often and even Greg Kite for a three-minute stretch.

That's okay.

It was even fair for the Celtics to double-team him most of the game, for Larry Bird and Danny Ainge to come flashing at him when he got the ball in the low post. The way he is emerging in these playoffs, two Celtics to one Olajuwon is about right.

But two Celtics and two officials is a bit much.

"Every time I would complain," Olajuwon said, "[the official] would say: 'Okay, next time.' But he never called it next time. We know we have to beat the referees."

Did they know that coming in? "No. Now we know."

There was resignation, rather than fire, in Olajuwon's voice. He also was quick to praise the Celtics for their wonderful work and to insist he was "not complaining."

Until he was whistled to the bench with his fifth foul with 4:49 left in the third quarter, the Rockets were solidly in the game. This even though Ralph Sampson had been close to useless.

Hero of the five-minute stretch drive that humbled the defending champion Los Angeles Lakers a game earlier, Sampson was one for 13 from the field in the 112-100 loss Monday.

In 27 minutes, Sampson had four times as many turnovers as field goals. He also was hamstrung by fouls, though the Rockets surely never figured that at halftime, he and Paul Revere would have the same number of points: none.

Anyway, it was when Olajuwon got hit with his fourth and fifth fouls within a minute that the Rockets began to flutter back to reality. Those were the fouls that caused him to slam his plastic mouthpiece on the floor; those were not the fouls that irritated him most.

"The second and third were very bad," he said. "In a championship game, to call those kinds of fouls doesn't make too much sense . . . They push here, everything there. I do the same thing and it's a foul. Very unfair."

This is not even to imply that Houston would have won if Sampson and Olajuwon had not spent a total of 31 minutes on the bench.

The Celtics are better. Probably a whole lot better than Houston. Possibly one of the fine teams in NBA history. They need the advantage Jack Madden and Ed Rush gave them Monday as much as General Motors needs an extra 25 cents.

Still being honest, Olajuwon said: "We did not play very good. And Boston is a very great team. They play together, pass the ball to the open man, take advantage of every opportunity. We must do that."

The smart Celtics ran at Olajuwon early and often at both ends of the court. That eventually got the desired results, but not before Olajuwon showed stunning power and uncommon agility.

He once blew around Parish and muscled the ball over Bird for a three-point play. Another time he rocked toward the basket, moving Parish back a stop, and buried a fallaway shot.

About eight feet from the hoop in the second half, McHale, Parish and Bird flew toward Olajuwon. He lofted the ball over them -- and in.

The 12-point difference between the teams was about what most neutral observers had in mind before tipoff; to some Bostonians, the series was over before it began.

Those are the partisans gobbling up shirts that read: "1986 World Champions. Sweet 16." That was a reference to the number of championship banners strung high in this musty gym if the Celtics slap the Rockets three more times.

Or maybe it should be when the Celtics slap the Rockets three more times.

"Seven games," Olajuwon said.

That was the minority opinion around here, same as with the fouls.