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Bird From Afar Sinks Bucks in 4

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<i> Times Staff Writer </i>

That last three-point shot may not have been necessary or even gentlemanly, but Larry Bird found himself alone with the ball in the left corner with time running out in Sunday’s game. So, what the heck, Bird let it fly.

It swished. No surprise.

Another soaring Bird three-point basket seemed a fitting way to end the Boston Celtics’ 111-98 victory over the Milwaukee Bucks here Sunday afternoon to win the NBA Eastern Conference final series in four straight and very convincing games.

The three other three-point baskets Bird made in the final 4:06 buried the Bucks after they had pulled to within three points, 95-92, and were seriously threatening to force a fifth game in Boston.

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Only Boston will be returning to Boston today, thanks primarily to a fourth-quarter shooting display that surprised and amazed even veteran Bird watchers.

All told, Bird made five of six three-point shots in the game. Like a pool shark, he didn’t make them all from one spot--straight-on, the left corner and the left and right wings.

“I’m not so sure that Boston isn’t just on a different planet than us mere mortal teams,” Milwaukee Coach Don Nelson said.

If so, that might explain Bird’s ability to, at crucial times, do whatever he wants whenever he wants.

Bird, who finished with 30 points in 45 minutes, outscored the entire Milwaukee team, 17-16, in the fourth quarter. Even some in the usually supportive sellout crowd of 11,052 at the Mecca were cheering for Bird after it became apparent that the Bucks had no chance to win. “Larry has got no conscience out there,” teammate Danny Ainge said.

With Bird shifted to a guard to replace Dennis Johnson, who had fouled out, Bird swished three-pointer No. 1 from the top of the circle with 4:06 left. That gave Boston a 98-92 lead.

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“That first three-pointer was a back-breaker for them,” Celtic Coach K.C. Jones said. “That really put us ahead to stay.”

After Milwaukee’s Paul Pressey missed a jumper, Bird struck again with 3:23 left. With only one second remaining on the shot clock, an off-balance Bird took a pass from Bill Walton on the left side and hoisted a shot simply to beat the clock. That swished too, giving the Celtics a 101-92 lead.

“That one was a lucky shot,” Bird said. “It was a busted play with the clock running out and I was leaning to the left and didn’t have time to set. It surprised me that it went in.”

Quipped teammate Kevin McHale: “That shot was ridiculous. I mean, forget it. I bet (the Bucks) are over there shaking their heads over that shot.”

On the Bird scale of impressive three-point shots, the last two were routine. With 1:40 left, Bird perched himself on the left side and nonchalantly tossed in another swish to make it, 106-94, Celtics.

And then, one last time for the heck of it, Bird swished the three-pointer from the left corner, just beating the buzzer.

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“The defense was giving me the shots,” Bird said. “It’s all a routine. If they give it to you, you got to take it. But they let you set, it’s just like any other shot. You just got to shoot harder, that’s all.”

On that last one, it should be noted, Bird showed remorse.

“I didn’t want to shoot it,” Bird said, smiling embarrassingly. “Danny (Ainge) threw it to me and I’m not just going to stand there with it and not do anything. I waited to see if the buzzer sounded, but it didn’t. So, I shot it.

“Even after I took it, I said to myself, ‘Why did I take it?’ It wasn’t to rub it in or anything.”

No, Bird had already demoralized the Bucks enough, in the fourth quarter Sunday and throughout the short series. Bird averaged 25.2 points against the Bucks, but he seemingly contributed something different in each game.

In Game 3 on Saturday, for instance, it was Bird’s expert interior passing that helped the Celtics overcome an 11-point Buck lead to win. Sunday, he was on the receiving end of assists. Making three-pointers is nothing new to Bird. He won the three-point shooting contest at February’s All-Star game in Dallas, making 11 in a row at one stretch.

“I hope all the Celtics realize what a privilege it is to play with Larry Bird,” said Nelson, whose team received 27 points from Sidney Moncrief and 23 from Pressey. “When I played, I was fortunate enough to play with Bill Russell and Dave Cowens and I appreciated their talent. (Celtic players) are fortunate to play next to Bird.”

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Verbally, they showed their appreciation again Sunday.

Said McHale: “It was like he was shooting at balloons and popping them all over. Boom. Boom. He never missed. He just does everything. Today, he was in his three-point mode. Yesterday, it was his passing mode. I don’t know what it’ll be next. He’s just the best player there is.”

Bird isn’t the Celtics’ only fine player, as Sunday’s series clincher once again showed.

Take Ainge, for example. Playing all 48 minutes for the first time in his career, he scored 25 points, hit three three-point shots, and grabbed seven rebounds.

Before Bird took over in the fourth quarter, Ainge was the main reason the Celtics stayed close to the Bucks, who once again played with inspiration in front of their home crowd.

Ainge had 15 points at halftime to help give the Celtics a 62-58 lead, and his three-point basket at less than a minute into the fourth quarter trimmed a five-point Milwaukee lead to two points (84-82). Shortly thereafter, the Celtics took the lead and never relinquished it.

“A lot of people look at this game and talk about the brilliance of Bird, which I do, too, but don’t overlook Ainge,” teammate Walton said. “He just played fantastic today.”

Ainge, coming off a 3-of-12 shooting performance in Game 3, made 9 of 15 shots.

“They were dropping off, so Larry and I were able to shoot the three-pointers,” Ainge said. “I felt comfortable out there and they were just going in for me.”

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Another big contributor Sunday was center Robert Parish, who scored 25 points and had 9 rebounds despite playing only 27 minutes because of foul trouble.

And then there was McHale. All he did was make 9-of-16 shots and score 20 points, lead the Celtics with 11 rebounds and play strong defense to cut off Buck drives in the lane in the fourth quarter.

“Let’s face it, the Celtics were able to play at a different level than we were throughout the series,” Nelson said. “Our biggest problem is that they didn’t respect our outside game. Then, when we tried to drive inside, they had the advantage with their size.”

Houston, which leads the Lakers 3-1 in the Western Conference finals, might be the only team that can match up inside with the Celtics’ trio of Parish, McHale and Walton (off the bench). But the Celtics didn’t really want to talk about the next opponent.

“Who knows what’s going to happen out there,” McHale said. “To be truthful, though, Houston probably presents more of a problem for us. We’ll wait and see.”

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