Celtics 109, Bucks 100
Game 3 1984 Eastern Conference Finals
Celtics Lead Series 3-0
There is only one difference between the disaster of a year ago and the Celtics' mastery in this situation this season.
His name is K.C. Jones.
For some reason, as he has led his team to the best record in the NBA and through the league's toughest playoff schedule, Bostonians have seemed to dismiss K.C. Jones. Instead, we should all be embracing him.
Think of it. Have you heard anyone - your neighbor, your tennis partner, the guy who sits across from you at work, any of them - say, "Hey, that K.C. Jones has done a hell of a job"?
Nope. It has been Larry this, and Max that, and DJ's OK, and McHale can't be matched up.
But when you dissect what has happened between Milwaukee's blitz in four games a year ago and the Celtics' shoving it back in their faces this year, you can't escape K.C. Jones.
The only player of consequence who was not here a year ago is Dennis Johnson, a key contributor in the Celtics' 3-0 lead going into tonight's fourth game of the Eastern Conference championships. And Johnson wouldn't be here if K.C. Jones didn't have to go for a painful double - the trading of Rick Robey (with whom he was in business in a Quincy Market shop) and the gambling on Johnson, who had the reputation from Seattle and Phoenix of being a tough player to handle.
"A year ago I was just like a babysitter around here," said Jones after he put his team through a light workout yesterday morning. "I would work with guys like Rick and Danny Ainge and Charles Bradley, trying to keep them pumped up.
"Then the first thing I had to do was trade Rick. I just sat him down and told him why I was going to do it. Then I took the starting job away from Danny, and I cut Charles Bradley. I wasn't trying to prove anything. I just did what I thought was right."
K.C. Jones does not fit the mold of a popular coach in Boston. We go for the screamers. Dick Williams. Tommy Heinsohn. Red Auerbach. Don Cherry. The guys who were demonstrative and controversial. K.C. Jones is quiet and pensive.
"When I got this job I had been away from head coaching for seven years. I had some doubts. I could feel this cloud hanging over my head. I knew a lot of people had questions. I even wondered myself.
"Then I just made up my mind to block out anything that was going to be negative and just concentrate on what I had to do with this team.
"I came to camp without any master plan. I just copied the guy (Bill Fitch) who was here before me, using the system we had had over the past few years. But as the season progressed we started to change a lot of it."
The biggest thing he wanted to do was allow his players to enjoy the game. And he has succeeded.
"We have been playing basketball for nine months now," says assistant coach Jimmy Rodgers, "and no one wants to go home. Everyone is having so much fun around this team they want to keep on practicing and playing. None of us want to see this season end."
The vast majority of the players credit Jones with creating a winning atmosphere by developing an attitude around the club that is positive and enjoyable. Technically, he has made Boston one of the toughest teams in the league.
"A year ago," says Alton Lister of the Bucks, "they were very predictable. We knew what they were going to do on offense and it was much easier to defense them. This year they are the best unpredictable team in the league."
"What K.C. has done," says Heinsohn, "is put the ball in the hands of Larry Bird and let him create. Hubie (Brown) says Larry is the greatest passer in the game. I talked with Nellie (Bucks coach Don Nelson) and he says they can't handle the Boston offense that well because they never know what Bird is going to do with the ball."
In a game in Boston in early March, the Celtics lost to the Knicks by two points after having the chance to tie the game at the end.
"We had the ball and the time to score and put it into overtime," says Jones, "and we never got it into Larry's hands. I said to myself after that he was going get the ball. What we have done is make a point guard out of him. Then when they double him, this lets the rest of our guys use their imagination. They know if they come open he's going to get the ball to them."
This is why the rest of the league is having trouble setting up a defense for Boston. Once the ball goes into Bird's hands, his teammates can freelance.
"Our guys are getting used to it," says Rodgers. "They like the idea of being creative. We have plays just like everyone else, but we have been going away from them more than any other team."
"In the past two years everyone in the league was giving us the Philly defense: they would double-down on our big guys and make us take the jump shots. We have developed things to beat that. Now they have to do other things." Perhaps the thing that worried people most about K.C. Jones being the Celtics coach was whether this soft-spoken, mild-mannered man would be tough when he had to be.
"I feel that if you yell and get on players all of the time they just tune you out, and after a while they don't listen. I get on them only when I think it is important."
Halftime Saturday, when the Celtics trailed by 13, was one of those rare moments. "K.C. came after us," Bird said with a smile after the game. "He was very upset with us in the dressing room and told everyone just how he felt."
"He is as good a bench coach as there is in the league right now," says Auerbach. "No coach has substituted better than K.C. has."