1983-84 Boston Celtics
March 13, 1984
In the winner's locker room Sunday afternoon, Celtics coach K.C. Jones said, "The character of this team is magnificent. And it goes all the way down the line. We have players on the bench that have a total understanding of their roles on the team, and they accept it. It takes unique people to have this attitude." Across the room, guard Danny Ainge was biting his tongue, dressing quickly and trying to avoid saying something he'd regret. Ainge had just played one minute against Phoenix. Two days earlier, he'd played two minutes in Milwaukee. Before that, it was a DNP (did not play) against Utah.
"I'm a little surprised at the way things are going," said Ainge. "But this isn't the time of year to worry about individual things and I'm not going to cause any problems." Quinn Buckner, M.L. Carr and Scott Wedman are seasoned veterans. It is easier for them to accept the pine time. Likewise, rookies Carlos Clark and Greg Kite have low expectations. It is different for Ainge. He is 24 years old, a consensus college All-America, and he started 75 NBA games last season. It's tough when he sees his minutes dwindle from 20 to one in a single week.
Ainge's recent woes started when the Celtics played Seattle March 4 in Boston Garden. In the second half of Boston's blowout, Ainge took a floor- length touchdown pass from Larry Bird and went up for an easy two. He missed, and when he reversed his direction to atone for the sin, he ran head- first into Seattle sequoia Steve Hawes (6 feet 9, 220 pounds). Ainge suffered a jammed neck. It was very poor timing. He had been averaging 20 minutes a game since the Celtics flew to the coast in mid- February. He was Jones' third guard and had been playing a lot of crunch- time minutes.
He had trouble turning his head for a few days after the Hawes crash and wasn't with the Celtics when they bombed Washington Tuesday night. He showed up Wednesday at the Garden and said, "I'm ready." Jones disagreed and gave Ainge another night off as the Celtics beat the Jazz. Friday, Jones used Ainge for two minutes in the double-overtime endurance contest at Milwaukee. Sunday, it was a one-minute cup of coffee. "I'm 100 percent healthy," Ainge said after the Phoenix game. "I have been for three games.
"I was playing quite a bit when I got hurt," he pointed out. "I guess K.C. has just changed his mind about who he wants to go with down the stretch. It's his decision." Asked about his decision to go with other backup guards (Buckner, Carr, Wedman) ahead of Ainge, Jones said, "I just watch and look and see. Danny was a little rusty in Milwaukee, so it'll take time to get his timing back. This is not punishment. I'm just looking at what I see.
"Danny will be all right, but minutes have to be earned. If you're doing well out there, you stick. If you're not doing well, there's someone else to do the job." The distribution of minutes is Jones' most delicate problem and he has handled it masterfully thus far. Meanwhile, Ainge knows he'll have to come back on a minute-by-minute basis.
The Celtics will be going for their seventh straight victory when they play host to the Bullets tomorrow night. The Celtics have won nine in a row twice this year. Boston is 3-1 against Washington, its likely first-round playoff opponent . . . Since returning from his bout with sub-scapula bursitis, Bird is averaging 43.6 minutes, 28.3 points, 10.3 assists and 9.6 rebounds while shooting 54 percent (34 for 63) in three games. Jones pledges to give Bird and Robert Parish more rest between now and the playoffs . . . The Celtics must go 11-7 the rest of the way to hit 60 victories. The Celtics won 61, 62 and 63 games in 1979-80, '80-81 and '81-82. They need a 15-3 mark to register their best record during the Bird era. They are 7 1/2 games ahead of the Lakers in the race for best record in the NBA. The prize is home-court advantage in a potential championship final, plus approximately $100,000 to be split up by the team. In 1982-83, the teams with the best conference records were awarded $50,000 each, with an additional $50,000 going to the Philadelphia 76ers, who had the best record in the NBA. This year's pool has not been determined.