Celtics Losing Grip on Fundamentals

1981-82 Boston Celtics

Bill Fitch sees it. The Celtics had better get back to basics, and in any sport, the chief basic is defense.

"Our problem is defense, period," said Fitch after yesterday's second consecutive home loss, something that had never before happened during his tenure as the Celtics ' coach. "Three weeks ago, we were 1-2-3 in defense. Now you couldn't even find us. If we're going to run, we've got to play defense.

"What we did last year doesn't matter," Fitch continued after the Celtics fell to the Portland Trail Blazers, 123-119. "What we did in the last two games concerns me more than what we did in the first 39. What we do in the next three days is probably the most important thing we've done in the last year and a half. Everybody wants to win in this league. But not everybody wants to pay the price to win. Right now, a few people here are not paying the same price as others. As bad as we played in the last two games, there are probably guys sitting in the room that I'll talk to tomorrow and will be thinking I'm talking about the guy next to him, instead of himself. We played too much I Got Mine' defense out there."

The Celtics had been the league's No. 1 defensive team in terms of points allowed per game until mid-December. In their last 17 games, they have surrendered 120 points or more six times, not to mention 119, 118 and 116. This is Denver stuff, not Boston stuff, and if it persists, thoughts of defending the championship will be laughable.

"Tomorrow," said Fitch, alluding to today's practice, "we'll go back to work. People asked me, What are you going to talk about tomorrow?' It'll be A-B-C-D, and I'll find out who's not listening. It's time to start thinking about basketball, not the horse business or commercials."

The last time the Celtics dropped two straight at home was in April of 1979, when they lost to San Antonio on April 1 and Denver on April 6. They had not lost two straight all season prior to this dip . . . "If I could get 35 minutes a game, my stats would be better," said Billy Ray Bates. The bubbly Blazer guard, who tore apart the Celtics with 26 points, was showing off his new portable radio and tape player. In an era when everyone else is going Walkman crazy, Bates purchased a box that is so huge that one Portland writer said it had more conveniences than his mobile home.

Portland had two illegal defense violations, thus earning a technical. But it was symptomatic of his day on offense that Larry Bird missed the free throw. Question: When's the last time Larry Bird was called for two up-and- down violations in the same quarter (third)? Answer: When's the last time Ted Williams (or Dr. Jack Ramsay, for that matter) wore a necktie? . . . Fitch sent his troops out chopping in the final minute and a half, in deference to the new free throw rule, which does away with three-for-twos. The Blazers therefore went to the line nine times in the final 1:34, making 12 of the potential 18 points . . . Kermit Washington didn't accompany the Blazers, having been sent home from Philadelphia Thursday because of back spasms.

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