Bird and the Garden Are Much Too Hot for Rockets, 117-95

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Times Staff Writer

Until the Houston Rockets figure out a way to slow down Larry Bird, they’re probably not going to have much luck against the Boston Celtics.

That was in evidence Thursday night when Bird, recently crowned as the league’s Most Valuable Player, an award he has won for three straight seasons, scored 31 points in a thoroughly dominating performance that carried the Celtics to a 117-95 victory in steamy Boston Garden.

Now, the Celtics have a 2-0 lead in the best-of-seven NBA championship series, which they can wrap up without ever coming back here to play another game in the old building atop a train station where they have won 40 consecutive games and where the temperature was about 90 degrees Thursday night.


What chance do the Rockets have? Probably not much, Bird said.

“I thought Houston had to win at least one here,” he said. “And now we have a 2-0 advantage. We feel we are not going to lose at home, and we are not going down there to split. We are going down to win. I hope this is our last game here, but you never know.”

All that is certain is that the series shifts to Houston for the next three games, so perhaps a change of scenery will help the Rockets.

At the same time, a better defensive plan on Bird would help the Rockets even more. Maybe they can try all five players on Bird, because Rodney McCray alone couldn’t do a thing with him.

“It’s hard, but we have to find a way,” McCray said. “If we want to win this series, we have to come up with a better defensive scheme than just putting one player on him.”

Said Bird: “I don’t think they can handle it. I think it’s our advantage. “If they double up on me, I will swing the ball around.”

Let it be noted that the ball was swinging around pretty well for the Celtics.

Bird spent 44 minutes putting on his own instructional clinic. He made 12 of 19 shots, three from beyond the three-point stripe.


“He was on fire,” Celtic assistant coach Jimmie Rodgers said. “When the fire is burning that hot, you just throw some more gasoline on it and let him go.”

Away Bird went, along with any lingering suspense. Bird also had 8 rebounds and 7 assists, and in the second quarter he turned the game around with 13 points.

The first of Bird’s three-pointers gave the Celtics their first 10-point lead, 48-38, and Boston protected nearly all of that for the remainder of the first half, which ended at 59-50.

Bird was just as effective, if not more so, in the third quarter. He dropped another three-pointer to raise the Celtic lead to 73-56 and ran downcourt with a raised fist.

“Once the hands started going up in the air with Larry doing all he did, you’ve just got to sit back and admire,” Celtic guard Dennis Johnson said.

Bird quickly sank another jumper, again shadowed only by McCray out on the wing. Houston’s Akeem Olauwon picked up his fourth foul, Johnson converted a three-point play and a little later Bird sat down for his first rest of the game.


He stayed on the bench exactly 58 seconds. Bird came back into the game and ended the quarter with an underhand scoop after he first faked a fall-away jumper to bring the defense out on him.

That little piece of trickery ended a 34-19 quarter for the Celtics and gave them an 84-69 lead going into the fourth period. By then, it was largely over. The Celtics eventually ballooned their lead to 98-71.

“Custer didn’t make any damn speeches, so I’m not going to either,” Rocket Coach Bill Fitch said. “We were humiliated.”

If defending against Bird didn’t give the Rockets enough problems, trying to find some offense surely did. Akeem Olajuwon had 21 points, and Ralph Sampson came back from his terrible Game 1 to score 18, but they combined for only three baskets in the second half.

“I was ashamed,” Olajuwon said.

The Rockets’ starting guards never got untracked, with Robert Reid shooting 3 of 10 and Lewis Lloyd 4 of 9, and that hurt the team immensely because the Celtic defense was able to fall back into the middle and concentrate on the Rocket big men.

“We don’t look like the team that brought us here,” Olajuwon said. “We have to regroup. We’re down, 2-0, and we can’t afford to lose.”


Boston’s pressure defense limited the Rockets to only 41.3% shooting.

The Celtics blocked eight shots, with two of the rejections by Bird.

“It was one of those special nights for Larry,” Celtic teammate Bill Walton said. “His hands were on every ball--stealing, rebounding, passing and shooting. He could do anything he wanted to.”

All Bird wants to do now is win Game 3 Sunday afternoon in Houston.

“We just have to go down there and play hard and see what happens,” he said. “We can’t make predictions, but the pressure is on them. If they lose, they’re in deep, deep trouble.”

Notes The Celtics set a NBA title-series free-throw record Thursday night, making 23 of 24 from the line for 95.8%. That beat the record of 94.3% set by the Lakers, who went 33 for 35 on May 16, 1980 at Philadelphia. . . . In the first half, Ralph Sampson took an elbow from Robert Parish and left the game briefly to get five stitches to close a cut below his left eye. . . . The Celtics’ Bill Walton left the game for good in the fourth quarter after Rodney McCray kneed him in the right thigh. At first, Walton’s injury was thought to be to his right knee, which had kept him out of two games in the Atlanta series. . . . Kevin McHale had 25 points in support of Bird. . . . Celtic guards Dennis Johnson (18 points) and Danny Ainge (15) outscored their Rocket counterparts Robert Reid and Lewis Lloyd, 33-14. . . . Houston was 36-5 at the Summit during the regular season. “We play so well at home, we’re not out of this series yet,” Rocket Jim Petersen said. “We just have to do something about Bird, because he’s really killing us.”