No offense to the Mychal Thompsons, Kelvin Ranseys, Calvin Natts, Kenny Carrs and Kiki Vandweghes he used to play with in Portland, but Jim Paxson kinda feels this may be the first real playoff team he's ever been on.
"The Lakers were always the best team in our conference," he says. "Even if we got past the first round, we never had enough firepower to beat Los Angeles. It would be over early, and then off to the golf course. Here people go to the golf course, but we're still playing."
Paxson played in nine playoff series as a Trail Blazer. Well, make it eight. He was injured in 1981, seeing action during a miniseries loss to Kansas City in just one game for four minutes. "But it was long enough to go 0 for 3," he laughs. Anyway, his teams went 2-7 in series and 13-21 in postseason games. He has never played on a team that has advanced past the second round. As much as any player on the 1988 Celtics, he is looking forward to the playoffs.
"I am very excited," he declares. "Already, I can see a difference in the feeling here. The attitude is like, 'OK, now let's really start working.' It's not that they weren't working hard before, but there is a higher expectation level here than I'm used to. Not every team knows how to work. I've been on teams in the last three or four years that didn't work hard in practice and which lost in the playoffs because they couldn't execute. All of us who are new here -- Artis (Gilmore), Dirk (Minniefield), the rookies -- can see the difference, and we're all looking forward to these playoffs."
The Celtics have no plans to contact the Better Business Bureau in Portland, because Paxson has lived up to his billing. "I'd say there's even more to him than we expected," contends assistant coach/player personnel director Jimmy Rodgers. "He's shown more defensive ability than we had thought. He can be a defensive stopper. And he's very good at post-ups. We knew he could move without the ball and shoot. But these other parts of his game have pleased us very much."
Paxson's numbers aren't dramatic. In 28 games as a Celtic, he averaged 8.7 points while shooting 49 percent from the floor. He cracked double figures 13 times, with a high of 19 points. By the Boston substitute standards of the past two seasons, Paxson is a scoring machine.
What he happens to be is a pro. "He's a starter coming off the bench," says K.C. Jones. "We'll be counting on his experience to help us in the playoffs."
Adds Rodgers, "He's an experienced player who is top-quality. He gives us a lot more confidence. Another important thing about Jim is his size (6 feet 5 inches). Playoff basketball is usually more physical, and he can add, offensively and defensively, in that aspect."
Paxson stresses that the situation he finds himself in here is the precise one he dreamed about during his final unhappy year or two in Portland. "I wanted to be with a team that was good enough to win, which could determine its own destiny. I was afraid I'd spend 2 1/2 years sitting in Portland, which would be a bad way to go out."
That, however, is no longer a worry. When the Knicks arrive tomorrow night, Jim Paxson will be wearing a white uniform with the green lettering and he'll be thinking about winning a championship, not teeing up the white ball.