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Scapegoat Pinckney keeps Celtics kicking


RICHFIELD, Ohio -- He yells the name out more than 100 times a night. Chris Ford isn't coaching the Boston Celtics. He thinks he's coaching the "Eddies."

Somebody beats his man off the dribble. "Eddie!" Ford shrieks. The offense bogs down. "Eddie!" Ford bellows. The opponents rip off a fastbreak: "Eddie!" An enemy put-back: "Eddie!" John Bagley misses a free throw: "Eddie!" Robert Parish throws the ball away: "Eddie!"

The shower water is too cold: "Eddie!" The bus is late: "Eddie!" No doubt about it: Eddie Pinckney is responsible for the sagging economy, the California earthquakes, the rush-hour traffic and the persistent acne on the face of some 13-year-old kid. And it is, without question, his fault that the New Boston Garden project remains eternally stalled.

"Eddie is the only guy on the team who gets yelled at more than me," said Celtics forward Kevin McHale. "It's great. It takes the pressure off me. If someone throws in a 30-footer on the other team and Eddie is on the other side of the court, it's Eddie's fault."

Ford knows what he's doing. Every team needs a Designated Scapegoat or two, someone who can accept being the target when the coach wishes to deliver a larger group message. Ed Pinckney is perfect, because, unlike McHale, he doesn't yell back. But there is another important reason why Ford yells out "Eddie!" in triple figures each night.

"I expect a lot from him," Ford explained. "He can't be a tease anymore. He's too good to remain a tease."

Ed Pinckney was no tease last night as the Celtics evened this series with a scintillating 104-98 triumph over the Cleveland Cavaliers. He made a 43-minute contribution to the victory that transcends enormously his 12-point, six-rebound numbers.

"He was the difference," lauded Cleveland center Brad Daugherty. "A lot of people tomorrow morning will be talking about how many points Robert Parish or Reggie Lewis scored. That stuff looks good in the newspapers, but Eddie did all the dirty work underneath, got rebounds, made big steals and stuck his hands into everything. Guys like that are what you need to win in this league. He was more of a key than anybody."

Echoed assistant coach Don Casey, "He was Blue Collar Eddie tonight."

Ed Pinckney has given the Celtics great service during the last year and a half, but has never played bigger with the cashola thrown on the table than he did last night, tying the Eastern Conference semifinal series at a game apiece. The Celtics had been trashed inside ultra big-time during Saturday's 25-point loss, and a repeat performance would have insured another horrifying defeat.

In this one, Parish showed his class (27 points, 13-for-18) and McHale played his game (18), but the X-factor was Pinckney, who outplayed Larry Nance head-up and was ubiquitous in the team defensive scheme, making a game-high four steals while accounting for numerous deflections, switches and alterations.

"We just weren't active enough on Saturday," Pinckney said. "Tonight we were aggressive. We went after everything. In the last game, Daugherty, Nance or Hot Rod [Williams] would come driving in, and if one of us came over to help it was soft. Not tonight."

One Pinckney play will take its place on the internal Boston highlight film. With the Celtics clinging to an 83-80 third-period lead, Mark Price was busy orchestrating a three-on-one fastbreak when he laid the ball off to his wing man on the right only to see a hustling Pinckney pick it off.

"What a play," enthused Celtics CEO Dave Gavitt. "You won't see more than a handful of fastbreaks in Mark Price's career that he won't finish off perfectly."

Pinckney long ago resigned himself to his role as the team scapegoat. "I hear Chris every time," he said. "But you've got to accept his personality. He is going to yell. Especially at me. Doc [Ford's team nickname] just wants us to be aggressive. He wants us to go after it all the time, and if he thinks someone isn't playing hard, he gets on him.

"In the first game, we didn't respond. Tonight we did. We stayed with it. And when we got ahead, I could see the look in guys' eyes. We weren't worried about anything."

With no Larry Bird available, the Celtics have to win in a different manner, and they usually don't go very far without Pinckney doing what he does well. Ford doesn't demand much scoring from Pinckney. The job description calls for him to post up occasionally, scrap on the offensive boards, run the lanes faithfully ("Run, Eddie!" is one of Ford's favorite variations on the basic theme), guard his man tenaciously, help out on defense and, in general, sacrifice his body.

"And you know he is never going to get a call," pointed out Gavitt.

He did all this last night as well as he's ever done it. Ford couldn't afford to take him off the floor.

"He was terrific," said Gavitt. "I said to Chris, '54 was huge tonight.' But it's not just tonight. He's had a great year."

"You need a player like that to get the job done," said Ford. "It's the little things that win games for you, particularly in playoff games. Eddie can give them to us."

Eddie and his mates will get a few days to rest now, and the big men need it. But come Friday night, Eddie knows what to expect.

"Everything's great now," he said as he toweled himself off, "but when we play again, I know he's going to be yelling at me."

Damn right, Eddie. What about the Titanic? Didn't you see the iceberg?

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