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10.20.2009

Who Plays Enforcer Now that Robey is Gone?

1983-84 Boston Celtics
Preseason

The Celtics can talk all they want about their grand tradition, but they have forgotten one of the lessons of their history. Literate types have written over the years that to be No. 1 in the NBA you must have the essential parts: the massive center, the power forward, the point guard and the coach who can make them work together.

The Celtics' championship teams had all these parts, plus one. They had their own gorilla - an enforcer who would come off the bench at the first sign of trouble and start enforcing, a guy who could transform teammates from wimps to tigers in the knowledge that he was standing behind them in times of need.

There were no gorillas in green Sunday night when the Celtics and Philly came close to mixing it up at the Garden. There was no one to come after Moses Malone when he ran Cedric Maxwell off the floor in the first two minutes, trying to stuff Max' head into the base of the basket. There was no one to come forward against Marc Iavaroni when he confronted Larry Bird a couple of minutes later.

It was embarrassing for any old-time Celtics fan to watch Philly walk into Boston's building and take over. Malone got very physical in the opening minutes, tapping the message on a few bodies under the boards that he did not want to be messed with. And he wasn't. Two years ago, after Harvey Catchings of Milwaukee rearranged Bird's cheek with a well-placed elbow, I wrote a similar column about the Celtics needing their own gorilla. Then-coach Bill Fitch took exception. He was upset with the suggestion that fighting was part of the game. That was for hockey, not the NBA. Well, I wonder if Bill felt any different after the playoffs last year when Tree Rollins munched on Danny Ainge's hand in the first seriesand, in the second, Bob Lanier squashed Kevin McHale's head by locking it in his right elbow on the way to the Bucks' sweep.

Intimidation is a major factor in any professional game where the participants have the chance to hit each other. The Oakland/Los Angeles Raiders have the best winning percentage in all of sports over the past two decades. The Montreal Canadiens always had a Butch Bouchard or a John Ferguson in their glory days. Isn't it true that the only times the Bruins won the Stanley Cup in recent history was when they were known as the Big Bad
Bruins?

But, as noted above, the Celtics don't have to go any farther than their scrapbook. Bob Brannum. Jim Loscutoff. Tom Heinsohn (very bad when he wanted to be). Dave Cowens. Red Auerbach - after jumping out of his seat, climbing over the boards and running onto the floor to tell Moses what he thought of him in words unfit for a family newspaper - was telling new owner Don Gaston, seeing his first Celtics' game in Boston Garden, how it was in the old days. "We had (Bob) Cousy, who was such a dominant player (especially before the 24-second clock) that other teams wanted him out of the game. The Knicks used to send in Al McGuire to harass Cousy and try to get him into a fight.

Syracuse was the same, with Paul Seymour. One night we're playing Syracuse, and Seymour draws Cousy into a fight. They both are thrown out of the game. It's a ridiculous swap. "I get so mad I call the commissioner (Maurice Podoloff) and tell him: Commissioner, the next time Seymour comes out on the court and bothers Cousy, I'm sending Brannum out to break (Dolph) Schayes' head, and then we'll see how they like it,' " says Auerbach, smiling as he puffs on a cigar. "Know what happens? Seymour never bothers Cousy again."

This writer remembers reading a smallish article in Sport magazine when Loscutoff was still playing. It quoted Schayes, at the time still one of the great players in the league, as saying he considered Loscy the Celtics' most valuable player. This was unusual because, at that time, Jungle Jim was on the bench - except for special occasions. As I remember reading it, Schayes explained how players on the other team always looked anxiously to the scorer's table when they heard the buzzer sound to signal a a substitution. If they saw Loscutoff the floor, they wished they weren't.

"When he was on the floor, you kept your eye on him at all times," said Schayes. "It was very distracting. He had this habit of hitting you in the throat after you took a jump shot. After a while, you found yourself looking at him instead of the basket when you were shooting." This Celtics team does not have a hit man. Nor did the last. And it says here they will never beat this Philly team unless Malone is not around, for whatever reason. They also need a bad guy to ride herd on anyone who wants to lean on Bird. Larry is tough enough, but he really can't do it alone anymore.

In his final year in college, Bird tried to catch a line drive in a softball game. The ball shattered his right index finger. As a result, he cannot close his right hand into a fist, meaning he couldn't punch anyone even if he wanted to. Besides, do you want a guy you signed to a $14-illion contract fighting when you could find some bozo in the Continental League who would gladly play in Boston for the minimum if all he had to do was come off the bench on special occasions?

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