11.19.2008

Grampa Celtic Weighs In


I missed this one the first time through. Marvelous piece.

Around here, we like 'em in clusters, big and small.

No Celtic team ever wins just one. No, sir. You don't have to go back-to-back-to-back-to-back-to-back-to-back-to-back-to-back, although no one will complain if that's what you feel like doing. But back-miss-miss-back is about as far as folks here like to go.

I mean, not to put any pressure on you guys or anything.

Please. Just because Bill Russell and friends came within a sprained Russell ankle in the 1958 Finals against St. Louis of going back-to-back-to-back-to-back-to-back-to-back-to-back-to-back-to-back is no reason to feel harassed. No one will hold you to that standard. The 1956 Bill Russell isn't walking through that door. We know better.

But Mssrs. Garnett, Pierce, and Allen, know this: You are the Big Three. You're well-seasoned, but not exactly ancient. Ray, you're 33. Kevin, you're 32. Paul, you're 31. There should be a little gas left in the tank, a little spring in the step.

Your coach is very, very, very, verrrry careful to monitor your minutes. He doesn't have to win 66. He has his ring and his contract. If he has to sacrifice a battle or two with an eye toward winning the armistice sometime in June, he's prepared to do just that.

His entire goal this year will be to get you and the rest of the 2008-09 Celtics in playoff readiness. The home court would be nice, but at this point in your unit development, it should not be essential to your success. You shouldn't need a seventh game against the likes of an Atlanta (a Cleveland, perhaps, but next year that will be in a later round) in 2009.

That silly when-will-they-ever-win-a-road-playoff-game stuff will be a distant memory. You'll win 'em, all right. The only question is whether you'll win enough of 'em.

You guys are the fourth great Celtics team. The first was the Russell bunch, a group that won 11 out of 13 available championships from 1957 through 1969. During that time, the league changed dramatically. It expanded from eight teams to 14. It embraced the African-American player in great numbers. It fought fiercely for its share of the American sports entertainment pie, and when that amazing run was over, the Celtics had joined the Yankees and Canadiens as standards of North American professional sports excellence.

They came and they went, even the coach. There was, of course, one exception. Bill Russell, the greatest team-sport athlete America ever has produced - this is way beyond argument - played on all 11 teams. Cousy, Sharman, Loscutoff, Ramsey, Conley, Heinsohn, Sanders, Havlicek, Naulls, Siegfried, Nelson, Howell, the Joneses, Embry, Bryant, and many others played alongside him as he dominated the sport of professional basketball for 13 years, losing only once fair and square.

Only hard-headed St. Louis folks would deny that had Russell been healthy in the 1958Finals, the Celtics, and Russell, would have prevailed. As it was, it took a magnificent 50-point effort from the noble Bob Pettit to win a 2-point sixth game in St. Louis. What do you think would have happened had they been forced back for a seventh game in Boston?

The legit loss was in 1967. That year, Wilt Chamberlain was better and the 76ers were better. That year. And only that year

Check that. Not fair, and it ties in with one of the issues facing you guys. You may need some luck to repeat. Luck is nothing to be ashamed of. Luck is very often part of the deal. Luck takes many forms. It can be a bounce of the ball. It may be a beneficial call. Very often it's an injury. The 1968 Celtics benefited greatly from a 76er injury. Billy Cunningham, a truly great player, had broken his arm in the previous series against the Knicks. When the Celtics came from 3-1 down to beat the Sixers, Cunningham wasn't available. C'est la guerre, you know?

The next great Celtics team was built around Dave Cowens and John Havlicek. They very easily could have won four straight from 1973-76. They won 68 regular-season games in 1972-73, but Havlicek sustained a shoulder injury in Game 3 of the Eastern Conference finals vs. the Knicks and they eventually lost in seven. Bad luck, yes, but you think anyone around the league was sending sympathy cards?

They won it the next year and lost to the Washington Bullets in a six-game series in 1975. Were they good enough to win? Yup. Was Washington very good? Yup. That's the way it goes, you know? But they did win in 1976 with the weakest team of the four-year span. Whattya gonna do?

They won two in four years, but Paul Silas left after the second one and Cowens took his famous sabbatical. That little era was over.

Then, of course, there was the reign of Big Three I. Larry Bird, Robert Parish, and Kevin McHale won in 1981, 1984, and 1986. They were good enough to win in 1982, 1985, and 1987. They were not good enough to win in 1983. The Laker teams of 1985 and 1987 were a little deeper. The '85 Celtic team didn't have a healthy Cedric Maxwell and the 1987 team had neither a healthy McHale nor any kind of viable Bill Walton. But they were still close. With a little bit o' luck, or perhaps a key LA injury, they might have won another title or two. The thing is, they had a shot.

So, Big Three II, now is your time. When Danny Ainge assembled you in the summer of 2007, the prevailing thinking was that there was basically a three-year window to pick up banner No. 17. Winning 55 or so and going into the second, maybe third, round of the playoffs, would have placated the masses. It would have signaled that NBA basketball was back in Boston, that the Celtics were back in the dialogue.

But you guys advanced the timetable. You played with almost incomprehensible intensity, becoming one of the few teams in modern NBA history to put the pedal to the metal in Game 1 and keep it there until the waning minutes of that memorable Game 6 of the Finals. We're reasonable people. We don't expect you to repeat that performance

You'll be allowed (brief) hiccups. We all understand that, between the target-on-the-back syndrome and the obvious improvement of some rivals (e.g. Philly, Toronto, and even New York). You're not humiliating the West Coast teams the way you did last year. You're almost undoubtedly not sweeping Texas

You won't be winning 66. We won't be shocked if someone gets hurt and misses extended time. All the folks around here ask is for you to have the act together by the middle of April. We know NBA reality. We know when you need to be at your best, and it's not November, December, January, February, or March

But understand that the people around here have been schooled by their elders to expect more than just a little quirky one-off title. None of that '75 Warriors, '78 Bullets, or '79 Sonics stuff around here. We know you're good enough to win another one. Get to it.

6 comments:

The Kid said...

I read this article when it came about and what was interesting was Bob Ryan saying the Celtics would have probably won in '85 if Cedric Maxwell was healthy. You think a healthy Maxwell would have put the Celtics over the '85 Lakers?

Lex said...

Nah. I don't.

But an injury to a couple of Lakers in 87 might have changed things.

Also, in '82, the C's were one game away from the Finals.

That would have been an interesting Finals.

How about you?

The Kid said...

I don't think the Celtics would have beat the Lakers in '82. Coming back from a 3-1 deficit and still losing Game 7 at home by double digits means to me that the Sixers were a superior team to the Celtics that year.

The '87 Lakers I think would have only lost the Finals if Magic was hurt. He wanted it too much that year to be denied.

Lex said...

What about Bob Ryan's claim regarding 85?

The Kid said...

The '85 claim does kind of make sense. The '85 Celtics seemed to be better than the '84 team, and that '84 team was not expected to beat the Lakers but the '85 team was favored.

Lex said...

Yeah.

I'm not sure that a healthy Cornbread would have made two games worth of difference.

Also, the 75 team lost to Washington who lost to GS.

That's along way from a championship team.

About like saying San Antonio almost won it last year.

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