I started every game I played throughout my basketball career except for one game in junior high when the coach decided to start a taller player with more raw talent and potential. We fell behind early, the coach stuck me in, we came back, and at halftime the coach made a point of calling attention to the way I handled the "benching."
"Lex doesn't care when he plays," the coach said. "He's comin' after you."
That's how I felt about Bill Walton in 1986, and Dave Cowens before him. The only player the Celtics have had since 1986 who could match the intensity of those two guys is Kevin Garnett. So if Doc Rivers plays it safe with KG's knee and brings the Ticket off the bench, we could find out if its possible to duplicate or surpass what must be the greatest single season performance by a reserve in NBA history.
As I've noted before, Walton came off the bench that year and totally dominated Kareem both times the Celtics played the purple. Think about that. He outplayed one of the best centers in the history of the game, and he was our reserve. That's how it was for Walton all during that magical season, night after night, with only a few exceptions (exception 1, exception 2).
It wasn't just that Walton won the Sixth Man award that year playing just 18-20 minutes per game. Walton played those 18-20 minutes with an unbridled passion. He looked liked a man possessed, a man scared that unless he gave the game every last ounce of energy, he might never get to take the floor again, and that was despite all of the injuries he'd suffered through, all of the games he'd missed, and all of the surgeries he'd undergone. Walton played 80 regular season games that year, plus another 20 exhibition and playoff games, despite having never played more than 67 regular season games in any one season prior to 1986.
I hate to say it, but I don't see KG throwing caution to the wind in the same way this year, whether he comes off the bench or not, and I'm not sure we'd want him to, either. But Bill Walton did it, and the Celtics were a better team because of it. Strike that, the Celtics have a claim to being the best team ever because they had an All-World center coming off the bench to replace the All-Star center in front of him.
There simply has never been a front line better than Larry Bird, Kevin McHale, Robert Parish and Bill Walton, and there will never be another sixth man like the Mountain Man.