NBA CHAMPIONSHIP : Celtics Tie Down Towers, Win Game 1

Times Staff Writer

For the Boston Celtics, Game 1 of the NBA championship series with the Houston Rockets on Monday was a matter of simple mathematics.

Just take away one Tower early, then take away the other Tower a little later, and what’s left?

It adds up to a 112-100 victory for the Celtics, who divided the Twin Towers of Ralph Sampson and Akeem Olajuwon, then conquered the Rockets in a breeze.


Sampson played only five minutes of the first half after he picked up three fouls. Even though Sampson played 22 minutes in the second half, he finished with only two points and made only 1 of 13 shots.

Was it his worst game ever?

“I don’t know,” Sampson said. “I don’t keep stats.”

The Rockets, who trailed only 61-59 at the half without Sampson for most of the time, were still in pretty good shape until it was Olajuwon’s turn to get into foul trouble.

Olajuwon was whistled for his fourth and fifth fouls within 30 seconds of each other in the third quarter.

The Celtics were ahead by only five points when Olajuwon went to the bench, taking his 30 points with him. With Olajuwon sitting and Sampson unable to do anything but miss shots, the Celtics put the Rockets away.

A 14-4 run by the Celtics enabled them to close out the quarter with a 91-76 lead that eventually grew to 21 points, 103-82. And that was that as far as Game 1 went.

This is supposed to be a series in which the Celtic front line does to the Rockets what the Lakers were unable to do. That is to match up against them, which they did in typical Celtic fashion.

Boston’s starting front line of Robert Parish, Kevin McHale and Larry Bird combined for 65 points, 23 of them by Parish, and Bill Walton came off the bench long enough to add 10 points and 8 rebounds, all the while bothering Olajuwon almost as much as the officiating.

“The referees called the fouls too tight,” said Olajuwon, who scored only three points after he collected his fifth foul. “I was complaining to the referees that I could not get away from him (Walton), but I don’t care if I can get away with the same thing.

“It was very, very unfair,” he said.

Nobody said playing the Celtics in Boston Garden would be fair.

“Once they got us down, they were nasty,” Rocket Coach Bill Fitch said.

The Celtics went ahead to stay in the third quarter, during which they outscored the Rockets, 30-17. Dennis Johnson had 12 of his 19 points and Danny Ainge had 10 of his 18 in the quarter when the Rockets spent so much time double-teaming the Boston big men that the Celtic guards were left open for perimeter shots.

Of course, it didn’t hurt them that Olajuwon was on the bench and Sampson was something less than effective.

“I would say it took a little starch out of them,” Parish said. “Akeem was scoring a lot of points, but nobody was doing much on offense except him, so when he went out with fouls, they had to change a lot and run other things for other people.”

Whatever Sampson tried didn’t work. His only basket of the game was a jump hook in the third quarter, and he was even out-dunked by Walton, 2-0.

“I don’t think that will happen very often,” Walton said.

Neither do many believe it likely that Sampson will repeat his Boston Garden playoff debut.

“It would be very uncharacteristic if he does,” Parish said. “But I’m not predicting anything. Maybe he will.”

In any event, the Rockets aren’t yet ready to concede a thing to the Celtics. They remember that the Lakers lost to the Celtics by 44 points in Game 1 last season, then came back to win four of the next five games.

Outside of that, the Rockets are looking forward to playing a game with both their Twin Towers on the court at the same time.

That should help, but it doesn’t solve the problem of the Celtic guards, especially Johnson, who wound up only two assists short of a triple-double. Johnson, who is only 6-4, led the Celtics with 11 rebounds.

Bird had 13 assists in a game-high 44 minutes, matched Walton with 8 rebounds and also scored 21 points, the same as McHale, who said Boston’s game plan wasn’t very complicated.

“We wanted to make them commit some fouls,” McHale said. “They’re so big and strong, we can’t let them intimidate us. We didn’t.”

Rodney McCray scored 20 points to help the offense where Sampson could not, but McCray had only one rebound in 42 minutes. Jim Petersen worked 28 minutes but had only four rebounds playing in place of Sampson, then in place of Olajuwon.

“One of the problems you get playing our team is that we go inside, go inside, go inside,” Walton said. “Sooner or later, we’re very tough.”

They already are. So what’s in store for Game 2? Ainge said he knows a good place for the Rockets to start.

“Stay out of foul trouble,” he said. “They weren’t themselves today. Thank goodness.”