Sichting Getting his Groove on for 86 Cs

It's as if Jerry Sichting was item 4638-A in some basketball catalog.

Experienced jump shooter. A bit on the small side, but compensates with decent quickness and above-average intelligence. When going right, drains 20- footers the way others make uncontested layups. Tired of watching the play- offs, and could be just the right item to augment an inside-oriented attack for some championship contender.

And so the Celtics, tired of seeing their big men constantly double-teamed, bought one. There was no money-back guarantee, but even if there were, Sichting wouldn't be going anyplace. He has found a home in Boston.

At first, nobody was sure how good he was. He scored in double figures during just two of the first 30 Celtics games. Now the wondering is over. Jerry Sichting will take the floor tonight against the Clippers (7:30, SportsChannel) on the crest of a major wave. In the past seven games, he has averaged 11 points with 67 percent (32-for-48) shooting while playing 24 minutes a game. Sichting open from 20 has become the most welcome sight on the team.

"If he is open," says Larry Bird, "we have got to find him. If they're double-teaming, you've gotta get the ball to him. It's that simple. I don't care if he winds up taking 30 shots a game. That's what we got him for, and that's what he does best."

The 6-foot-1-inch Sichting's attitude toward his current blissful state of affairs lies somewhere between matter-of-fact and let's-throw-a-party. Of his recent great shooting, he says, "It's a nice groove, but I've been in one like this a couple of times before. There were a couple of times in college (Purdue) when I'd go through seven or eight games and shoot close to 70 percent. I live and die with the jump shot, and I will go hot and cold."

But the large picture has him truly excited. "Coming to the Celtics has worked out exactly the way I expected it to," he says. "The guys get you the ball when you're open on offense and cover up for you on defense. I'm not the greatest one-on-one defensive player in the world, but on this team, everyone sloughs and helps out on defense so well that I can't remember being burned. We try to play as close to a zone as possible and stay within the legal limits. Then we've got three shot blockers in Robert (Parish), Kevin (McHale) and Bill (Walton) to back me up."

Sichting's early problems reflected the reality of the Celtics' situation, which is that the first offensive thought generally is to get the ball inside. When to shoot and when to pass is often a difficult judgment on this team. "We don't run many plays for the guards," Sichting says, "but we see so much double-teaming that you can get open. When we pass the ball the way we did in the fourth quarter against Indiana, we're very tough to beat."

Sichting's breakthrough came around New Year's Day, and during the past two months he's become a major offensive weapon. "Guys are looking for him," says K.C. Jones, "and that's got to make him feel better."

Adds Sichting, "Once you have two or three good games, your confidence soars. And then you start getting some lucky bounces, too."

Above all, Sichting is grateful to be a Celtic. The contrast between his old and new team was very evident Sunday night in Hartford when Indiana played well for three periods before being blown out by the Celtics. "I felt sorry for them," Sichting says. "I knew in the fourth quarter that if it were close at all, we'd win. For some reason, teams like that don't win those games. I just thanked God I was wearing a white uniform instead of a blue one."

Given that he had shot 5 for 6 in that game, he wasn't alone.

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