Tiny, Bird, and Fitch are All-Stars

1981-82 Boston Celtics

Please don't make a fuss about them.

Bill Fitch and Larry Bird share at least one important trait: Neither wants to be the center of attention. Yes, they are two of the chief architects of the Celtics ' success, and they enjoy the glory those accomplishments have reaped - on a team basis. But neither is interested in taking individual bows.

Consider two recent occurrences.

Fitch has earned the honor of coaching the Eastern Conference All-Stars in next Sunday's NBA All-Star game at the Meadowlands Arena in East Rutherford, N.J. After 11 1/2 years as an NBA coach, he finally achieved that distinction by guiding the Celtics to the best record in the conference (28-9) by yesterday's cutoff date.

"I really appreciate the honor," he said on the flight home following Boston's fifth triumph in six games, a 128-120 decision over the Pistons in Pontiac, Mich., Saturday. "And I'm looking forward to the game. For those three days (the All-Star break), I'll work as hard as I know how. It's a fun game for the players and the fans."

But he wasn't dwelling on his personal achievement.

"I'm really more concerned with our own team," he said. "Some people are acting like the season is over. We've only played half our games. We've been playing pretty well lately, even though we are out of sync with (Cedric) Maxwell out. I just hope we can continue. Guys can pick up for a game or two when someone is hurt. But I don't know anybody who doesn't think we're a better team with 12 healthy players than we are with 11."

Not surprisingly, Bird also will be spending next Sunday at the Meadowlands. Yesterday he was named a starting forward on the Eastern squad, joining teammate Tiny Archibald, who'll start in the East backcourt. Bird turned in a typical All-Star performance Saturday night when he emerged from a seven-game Silverdome shooting slump (44 for 117) by hitting 15 of 25 shots from the floor. And his faulty hearing helped win the game. With 6:31 left, Fitch called for Gerry Henderson to replace Archibald in the backcourt. But Bird thought the coach had called his number. He raced onto the court and promptly helped turn a 106-105 lead into a comfortable cushion.

Bird's line read: 32 points, 14 rebounds, 9 assists, 2 steals. But he didn't want the credit focused on him. After all, Robert Parish (25 points, 18 rebounds), Archibald (22 points) and Kevin McHale (21) had contributed significantly too.

"I'm not a stat man," said Bird. "I learned from playing with Dave Cowens that it's the way you play when you have to play that is important, not statistics. You have to do what you can when you're in a game and not worry about it. If your shot is not going down, you do the other things necessary to win. I was helped early in the game by hitting a few shots. When we got behind, I started shooting more, and it loosened things up inside. We played good defense and cut the lead down just the way you're supposed to do - two points at a time."

And what about that little coaching decision he made in the final minutes? How was it that he, not Henderson, popped up when Fitch called out, "Gerry"?

"Well, I did think he was calling for me," said Bird with a grin. "I was tired of sitting on the bench and I knew it was about time he was going to put me back in there. The first time I realized different was when I was in the shower and the guys started to kid me about putting myself into games."

It was a logical assumption, because Bird indeed is playing a more prominent role in the Celtics' offense. By necessity. With opponents concentrating on stopping the Celtics' strong inside game, Fitch has been forced to rely more on outside shooting. Bird has been on a tear from outside and is now averaging 23.1 points a game.

It is perfectly normal, contends Fitch, for teams to make such adjustments during an 82-game season.

"When you're a defending champion like we are," he said, "You have to be up every night for a game. It is a game of peaks and valleys, and you can't be expected to be too high or too low every night. But you must establish a level of play and try to work together as a team. Sometimes, however, you have problems, and that's when your superstars like the Birds, Parishes and Archibalds have to come to the front. We're a little out of sync with Max out. That's why other guys are stepping forward.

"The thing to keep in mind is that we're playing teams that are much better than they were the first time around. But we're also playing much better now than we were in December. Likewise, we're going to have to play better in February than we're playing in January. Larry is no different than anybody else on this team. What it all comes down to is what does it take to get the W.' That's where it's at."

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