1981-82 Boston Celtics
Webster defined a myth as a fable, as a veiled explanation of a truth, as a fact existing only in one's imagination.
That may be it. Celtic coach Bill Fitch could be perpetrating a myth by contending his championship team cannot turn on the faucet at will to win games this season.
Last night at the Garden with 10 minutes to play the Celtics were tied, 83-83, with the Kansas City Kings. Soon Fitch reinserted Larry Bird and Rick Robey for Cedric Maxwell and Robert Parish and in the next 3 1/2 minutes the Celtics outscored the Kings, 14-3. For the record, the final score was 115-100.
It had not been the same formula but it had been a similar state of affairs the previous night in Washington when Boston trailed the Bullets by 17 in the second quarter, by nine at the half and six after three quarters, then almost coasted home, 90-84.
Washington coach Gene Shue refused then to respond to the question of whether the Celtics had actually yawned their way past his club. Not so last night in the losing dressing room, however, where King coach Cotton Fitzsimmons opened his postgame remarks by volunteering unusually high praise of the Celtics.
"They were piddling around out there most of the time," he began. "It was a little embarrassing the way they outplayed us in the end. But I like to think I teach basketball and I told my players I hoped they learned something tonight about how to play this game.
"The Celtics are so smart. They play such team defense when they want to that if your offense makes a mistake they take the ball away and score. They made us lose our poise.
"We played as good as we could play tonight and that is why we were tied into the final period," Fitzsimmons explained when asked whether there was any time during the game he thought his team could win.
"We were in it . . . but we weren't in it . . . if you know what I mean." There were understanding nods and the majority of the 15,320 in the sold-out Garden also would have understood.
Only six of the Celtics' 43 baskets were scored by their guards, it was noted. Did that reveal a flaw in the Celtics, Fitzsimmons was asked?
"No, the opposite. When your forwards score it means better percentage shots and more foul tries," he explained. The stats proved him accurate. Boston shot 51 percent and had 38 foul shots. Kansas City's guards scored 10 baskets but as a team the Kings shot only 43 percent and had just 17 foul shots.
Inevitably, in the midst of this torrent of praise, Fitzsimmons was asked whether the Celtics could continue to merely turn it up a notch at the appropriate time as the season progressed.
"Yes, and they'll have to approach some games like that over the long season. They'll be able to do that against most teams. I know that Bill Fitch is going to deny this and so would I if I were him, but we're talking about an outstanding team and about human nature," Fitzsimmons added.
Predictably, Fitch did refute his rival coach's statement. "I don't respond to something another coach says about my team," he said. "I wish he had come down to our bench and told me that during the game," he said when told that Fitzsimmons had conceded, in effect, that the Kings never had a chance last night.
Fitch had entered a similar denial on Ch. 4 before the game in Washington when TV analyst Bob Cousy asked if the Celtics could get up for a team they had beaten recently by 24 points.
After last night's game Bird adopted the same general attitude as his coach. "This was an important game for us because you don't want to lose at home. We were ready tonight," he insisted.
Still, there seemed to be a message in the manner in which the Celtics finally put it to the Kings, who had two rookies in their starting lineup. Boston's staunch defense led to four turnovers and a bad percentage shot by the Kings, and off these mistakes the home club scored four baskets on breakaways as the Garden throng roared. There was another message of the deep strength of the team in the fact that so-called backups Robey, Kevin McHale and Gerry Henderson were in the game with Bird and Tiny Archibald at the time.
The theory of whether the Celtics can turn it on at will may be tested again tomorrow night when they play the young but losing Nets in Hartford and again on Saturday against the Cavaliers in Cleveland.
Regardless, Fitch will continue to deny that the Celtics often can win as they choose. So did Red Auerbach while Bill Russell and Bob Cousy and friends did the same thing for almost a decade. It was certainly a myth then.