Bird Set to Take Wing, and More Shots : Celtics Know They Have a Fight on Their Hands With Rockets
Larry Bird said there won’t be any fights today in Game 6 of the National Basketball Assn. final. He also said that by tonight, there won’t be any more season, either.
“I’m very confident that we’ll win,” Bird said.
What is the reason for Bird’s optimism?
Is it because the Boston Celtics are already one step away from their 16th NBA title, with a 3-2 advantage over the Houston Rockets?
Is it because the Celtics are 49-1 at the Boston Garden this season and have won 40 straight home games?
Is it because Ralph Sampson wants to bury the hatchet, instead of burying his fist in Jerry Sichting’s face?
While all of that is true, the real reason Bird is so confident about the Celtics’ chances of ending the NBA season today comes from a different source. It is Bird himself.
The Bird factor cannot be overlooked, although Bird’s second-half performances in the three games at Houston were barely noticeable: 4 points in Game 3, 7 points in Game 4 and 6 points in Game 5.
Since Bird’s assists also plunged from 11 in the first game in Houston, to 10 and then to only 4 in Game 5, he said the time has come for him to raise his game to a new level in an old season that has now lasted 7 1/2 months.
“I just think the guys realize that I didn’t have the ball enough,” Bird said. “I’m ready to go. And if I’m ready to go, the rest of the guys are, too. When it gets to be this time, you want the ball in the hands of the person who’s going to make things happen.”
Who might that be?
“If the game is close and we need two points, there’s no question I’m going to be taking the shots,” Bird said.
None of the Celtics expect a repeat of the Game 5 carnage in which Sampson was ejected for slugging Sichting and Dennis Johnson. When Sichting was told that Sampson had said he didn’t want to hold any grudges about what happened, Sichting responded by saying he would just as soon put the whole incident behind him.
But Sichting didn’t sound totally convincing.
“I still don’t understand it, but I’m not going to find out his summer address so I can write to him,” Sichting said.
The rest of the Celtics went out of their way to downplay the bench-clearing melee in Game 5. K. C. Jones believes the referees will call a tight game to keep it under control.
“If it’s not called tightly, it will be a brawl,” said Jones, who has no idea which two officials will be assigned to the game.
“I wish I had a choice,” Jones said. “I’d get a couple of my relatives.”
The Celtics kept their one-liners to a minimum after Saturday’s practice at Boston Garden. This is just the opposite of the way they acted in Houston when they were very loose. The Celtics spent a lot of time joking around then, but that atmosphere has changed now.
Maybe losing two of their last three games has a lot to do with it. The Celtics posted a guard at the door of the locker room after practice to keep reporters out, and no outsiders were allowed to enter until marketing director Tod Rosensweig intervened.
By that time, both Johnson and Danny Ainge had successfully ducked the media. Their teammates faced the media with a degree of grimness that hasn’t been seen before in this series.
“We’re determined,” Celtic center Robert Parish said. “They’re outplaying us right now, as far as aggression goes.”
Bird said any Celtic response to aggression will be basketball-related, in spite of what happened in Game 5.
“I know there won’t be any more fights,” Bird said. “Our team is not going to do it, and Houston had better not do it. Not in the Garden, anyway.
“They have been the aggressors, and we’ve sort of stood back,” he said. “But now we’re on our home court. We’re ready for a championship, we’re ready to win and we’re ready to go home. We owe Houston one now.
“We’re in a great position right now, and you can’t ask for more than that,” Bird said. “I just wish we could have played them today. I hate this waiting around. It’s just like a little kid waiting for Christmas. You know the present is there. You just have to go and unwrap it.”
Championship Series Notes
Larry Bird said he does not care who is defending against him as long as it isn’t the Lakers’ Michael Cooper. “Michael Cooper is not in the final series,” Bird said. “He’s the only one I feel who can shut me down some.” . . . The Houston fans in the Summit cheered when Rocket forward Ralph Sampson made a brief appearance Thursday night after Game 5, but former Celtic M.L. Carr doesn’t think that would be a wise idea today in Boston Garden. “If Sampson gets ejected here, he’d better not come out for a curtain call,” Carr said. . . . Celtic radio announcer Johnny Most doesn’t seem to admire Sampson very much. Here is Most’s opinion of Sampson after the Sampson-Sichting bout: “Ralph Sampson is a gutless big guy who picks on little people, and he showed me a gutless streak. That was a gutless, yellow thing to do.” It should be noted that Most doesn’t like Laker Kurt Rambis much, either. Most said this of Rambis during last season’s championship series: “They call him Clark Kent, but Rambis doesn’t come out of a phone booth. He comes out of a sewer.” . . . The Rockets did not arrive here until late afternoon, then practiced at Boston Garden. Sampson said he thinks the Rockets have earned respect from the Celtics. “I’m sure they took us lightly,” he said. “They were trying to get L.A. back. We weren’t supposed to be in a championship series with the great Boston Celtics. They thought they were going to make it four straight and drink champagne and celebrate on the Houston Rockets’ basketball court. It didn’t happen.” . . . Despite winning two of the last three games in the series, the Rockets do not believe they have the Celtics on the ropes, Rocket guard Robert Reid said. “They’re saying ‘Bring the champagne. We’ll open it Sunday,’ ” Reid said. “We haven’t done anything to rattle them. But we get them on Sunday, then let’s see how they’re thinking and talking.” . . . In their last 37 games at Boston Garden, all of them Celtic victories, only eight opponents have managed to come within 10 points of the Celtics, who are nine-point favorites today . . . The six-month anniversary of the Celtics’ only home-court loss of the season (to the Portland Trail Blazers) was Friday . . . If there is a Game 7, it will be played Wednesday night at Boston Garden.