1981-82 Boston Celtics
Mission Impossible. The words have always appealed to veteran guard Tiny Archibald. They describe the challenge he has faced for almost 12 NBA seasons. They hint at goals that he has set for himself and the Celtics.
"This has been a very unusual year for us," says Archibald, who at 33 seems to be getting better instead of older in his role as Celtics ' playmaker. "We're on a mission impossible. No team has repeated as champion since the Celtics did it a long time ago and everybody is shooting at us.
"We've played well at times but we just haven't put it together and combined the right ingredients like we did last year. Last year we had the killer instinct. We're missing a little of it at this particular point."
Mission Impossible. People have always used words like that to describe Archibald after he gets up from yet another headlong, full-court rush through a garrison of defenders to a spectacular layup. But whoever said Tiny Archibald was just another 6-foot-1 guard?
Last season, en route to helping the Celtics to a world championship, Archibald picked up some hardware as the most valuable player at the NBA All- Star game. He was voted as a starter for the Eastern Conference stars in this year's game Sunday at the Meadowlands in New Jersey.
"Everybody strives for a goal," says Archibald, "and the goal this year for me is to try to get another championship with this team. I've had all the rest of the individual honors. I've been a part of a championship team. Now I'd like to be a part of a team that repeats. Nobody has done that since the '60s.
"People tell me I'm playing with a lot more confidence. I think I am but I'm not trying to score that many more points or do anything out of the ordinary. My job is to take care of the basketball, run the offense and get the ball to the right people."
Tiny Archibald was one of several Celtics upset over the weekend when things began to go wrong and the Celtics found themselves losers at home to Seattle and Portland. As playmaker, he has a firm grip on the direction which the defending NBA champions go each night. He spares no one from criticism, including Tiny Archibald.
"Last year we were a lot hungrier. This year we're taking a lot of things for granted. We come into our building thinking that clubs are going to lay down for us. And they haven't. I don't think the team is hurting in any phases. But we don't have the enthusiasm we should. We need to pick each other up.
"We're not struggling. But we did cough up two games that maybe we should not have lost. We just haven't put it together and combined the right ingredients like we did last year. When you are a player that comes from another team, you can see a lot of things that this club has and can use. That's how I look at it, and what we have to do is reach back and grasp for them. We can't just talk about them. We have to just go out there and do it."
When Larry Bird was on his hot streak a week ago, Archibald was averaging 36.8 minutes and 14.6 points a night. His 8.6 assists this year for 38 games are up from last year's average of 7.7 and rank him third in the league.
Archibald's improvement comes as no surprise to coach Bill Fitch.
"Tiny should be better," says Fitch. "He's part of the system that we've had here, and this is the third year that he's been doing what he's doing. His age has never been a factor because he keeps himself in good shape all year round. As long as his health is good, he could remain in this league and as part of our system for many years.
"Tiny is a very smart player who knows this club has a lot of talent. He'll get the ball to the other guys in a variety of ways. He knows how to go to the hot hand, and that is why Larry benefits. But there is more to our offense than Larry Bird, and Tiny still gets his one-fifth piece of the action. With the kind of people we have up front, clubs have been dropping off to give us the outside shot. But Tiny has always had confidence in his abilities. If the shot is there, he will take it."
The Celtic system, says Fitch, has produced some interesting options at guard. With Tiny as the anchor, Fitch has the choice of spotting Chris Ford more and perhaps replacing him as a starter one day with Gerry Henderson, who is gaining experience and confidence. A lot of NBA teams would love to have the Celtics' backups at guard - Danny Ainge and M.L. Carr, who is able to swing between guard and forward.
Tiny likes it, too.
"I like the idea of a coach having different combinations," says Archibald. "We've got Gerry and Danny who can help us and M.L. can go anywhere. In the long run, the more games we win with different combinations will help us at the end of the season."
Fitch said, however, he hasn't put his club through its paces in the last two days with the idea of improving just his guard play. The entire club is in a slump, and he wants that to end tonight at Boston Garden when the Celtics play the Knicks (7:30, Ch. 4, WRKO), who have been struggling lately, losing seven of their last eight.
According to Fitch, losing back-to-back games at home is nothing to be alarmed about. It's what the Celtics do about it that concerns him.
"If we didn't have newspapers and television and there wasn't a need to have something printed every day, you wouldn't make too much out of it," said Fitch.
"I don't think it is a problem that has been creeping up on us. It's just that this basketball team is under a microscope. If they don't win by 20, something is wrong. Pretty soon when something does go wrong, we say, gee, we saw that. You go at it two ways. Got to have hard work and hard practice. Also need some time off, too." Fitch, however, gave warning that he would not have the patience in the future that he apparently has now.
"It's hard to practice at this time of year," he said, "and get something out of it. But some guys really need it, too. But one thing we can do is to start playing people the way they practice. Maybe we'll start doing a little of that, too. We got some guys who are doing a pretty good job in practice, and I keep preaching that you play like you practice. So maybe some of those guys will get more time."