The way Red Auerbach looks at it, the Celtics were beaten, period. He won't have to agonize over one missed shot, one missed rebound, one errant pass or one bad call. And losing Sunday's seventh game of the NBA Eastern Conference final to Philadelphia did not destroy the entire season's accomplishments, either.
"There were no excuses," he declared. "They hit all their outside shots. They had their rhythm and we didn't. We turned the ball over and they didn't. I do think it was the kind of game that was right up Tiny's (Archibald) alley, but we didn't have him, and that was that. There was no one person to blame. We lost as a team."
There is always disappointment in the aftermath of a loss such as that one, but the 63-year-old president of the Celtics, the only NBA original still active in management circles, won't allow that disappointment to overshadow the team's overall success.
"I am proud of the ballclub," he said. "I didn't lose sight of the fact that we won 63 games, nor do I lose sight of the fact that anything can happen in one ballgame or one series. I also think that after the last game in Philly (Boston's 88-75 triumph in Game 6) Bill Fitch worked very hard to get the players to forget that game and not think it was all over. But no matter how hard Bill and I tried, there was a tendency to look past this game.
"As far as the game is concerned, I thought Bill tried everything he could. But when Dr. J hit those shots at the end of the third quarter from downtown, it was a sign. They got good offensive games from the people that had to come through. Dr. J, (Maurice) Cheeks, Bobby Jones and, of course, (Andrew) Toney all did the job. The difference in Toney between the seventh game and the two before it was that on Sunday he quickly pulled up for his shots. In the other games he kept going through and we'd get blocks and fast breaks out of it."
Auerbach thinks it was a season of growth as a team, and the playoffs were a particular period of growth for Danny Ainge. "He was thrown into a situation where he wasn't even a rookie, but a half-rookie, no, a one-third rookie with no training camp," he said. "He's got a lot of guts. He's not afraid to take the big shot. His attitude was, and is, super. He's a pro, a Celtic-type player. A whole lot was put on his shoulders and it wasn't just as a substitute. It was put on his shoulders to produce, and he did."
Another Celtic of interest is Rick Robey, whose reduced playing time in the second half of the season led to queries concerning his future in Boston. For what it's worth - and that, presumably, is a lot - Auerbach remains a Robey fan.
"I think Robey contributed damn well," he said. "And I am not inclined to look for trades unless they can appreciably benefit both teams, predominantly ours. When you play a tough 82-game schedule you need depth. You say to yourself, Is the guy worth those kind of dollars as insurance?' The answer is yes, because you've got to have three centers in this league now."
Auerbach's most pleasant memory of Sunday is the crowd reaction. "Everybody on our team - including Bill, Harry (Mangurian) and myself - was thrilled," he said. "The fans thanked us for a great year on our way out, and that meant a lot. They showed more class than any fans in the country. We've had support in the past, but this was the ultimate. They've commiserated with us in the past when we lost, but it was still nice to see that people weren't bitter.
"Anyway," concluded the man who is the embodiment of the Celtics, "nobody can say we lost a big one. We've won too many of them."
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