1983-84 Boston Celtics
Have we vastly overrated this bunch? Are Robert Parish, Cedric Maxwell, Dennis Johnson, Quinn Buckner and Scott Wedman over the hill? Is Gerald Henderson capable of being the consistent guard the team has lacked? Is it time to give up on Danny Ainge? Are the team's fortunes too dependent on Larry Bird's shooting accuracy? Do they (gulp) miss Bill Fitch?
There are no easy answers to the questions, but one thing is clear: The Celtics have lost much of their intimidation. In the spirit of the Berlin Airlift, they've brought joy to decimated franchises around the league in the last 12 months. This benevolence has cost them dearly. They have forfeited their "big stick" mystique. They have to work harder to win now, because teams don't fear them anymore.
After New York's double-overtime victory over Boston Tuesday (the Knicks' fourth win in their last five games against the Celtics), Marvin Webster and Rory Sparrow issued telling statements.
Webster: "In the past, playing Boston, we always came in scared to lose. It was a psychological thing. Now we know we can beat them."
Sparrow: "We're no longer in awe of the Celtics' mystique."
There. The mere presence of Celtic Green is no longer enough to wilt opponents.
The Celtics are paying for bad habits acquired last year, when they lost to weak teams and had trouble handling mediocre ones. It's not like the good old days when opponents threw in the towel as soon as Fitch unleashed his formidable weaponry. Teams now think they can beat the Celtics. The Bullets do. So do the Hawks, and the Knicks and the Pistons. Even the Utah Jazz know they can beat the Celtics.
Coach K. C. Jones has noticed. "It's more of a problem this year than ever before," he says. "Utah, Detroit, New York, Indiana . . . all of them seem to have supreme confidence. Before, we'd walk on the court and we'd know that they knew that we were gonna win. Now they believe they can win, and it makes a difference."
One more thing. The Celtics are not viewed elsewhere the way they are here. Before Tuesday's game in New York, basketball scribe Harvey Araton of the Daily News wrote, "Another victory over the Celtics might create some doubt as to which team will chase the 76ers in the Atlantic Division."
Chuckle if you like, but the Celtics shouldn't be laughing. It's time for the Green Team to re-establish itself, or admit that it has dropped behind Philadelphia into that second-tier wasteland occupied by the Knicks, Nets and Hawks of this world.