December 12, 1979
NETS NEXT IN LINE ON RUGGED CELTICS' SCHEDULE
To Bill Fitch, it's a tunnel, dark and lonely. He thinks there will be no light before the morning of Dec. 23.
All he can see is games, games, games. There are too many games, with not enough practices, not enough rest and not enough bench production to satisfy the mentor.
The fans may be enjoying this Celtic season, and the players may be deriving a great deal of satisfaction from it as well, and management surely likes the rustle of the green stuff as people queue up to purchase those precious pasteboards. The only person not enjoying it is Fitch.
Tonight's game at the Garden with the New Jersey Nets (WBZ, 7:20) is the 10th in a run of 16 that began Nov. 28 (a 119-97 triumph over Denver) and will conclude Dec. 22 with a game in Philadelphia. That's 16 games in 24 days, which is one thing if you're Philadelphia, which has a bench triumvirate of Bobby Jones, Steve Mix and Henry Bibby, and quite another when you're Boston and the only bench person who has played with any consistency is M.L. Carr, who currently has two bad wrists.
The Celtics are 6-3 thus far in this stretch, and are coming off one of their better performances of the season, a 113-108 victory in Milwaukee on Sunday evening. The team had not played well the night before in losing to Cleveland, but it again demonstrated its charming capacity to regroup at the first sign of communal trouble. The Celtics have lost two games in a row but once this season, a fact that hardly has escaped them. Furthermore, they have developed a macho road approach.
"That's the benefit of a good training camp," says Fitch. "They came out of camp with a strong team bond. They had worked hard, but they had done the job and they had acquired respect for each other." It is this mutual admiration that has given them the league's most vocal bench support.
To be with the Celtics on the road is to be with taller, older high schoolers. Even in Cleveland they made a lot of noise. When they came from 18 down in the third quarter to come within six with eight minutes left, the bench people were at least partially responsible. They would not concede the game.
What Fitch now needs is an on-court performance to rival the off-court enthusiasm. In order to defeat Milwaukee, for example, Tiny Archibald had to play 48 minutes for the first time in six years. While Fitch has not given up on Gerald Henderson, the coach is plainly concerned about the rookie's stagnation on offense and regression on defense.
The same goes for Jeff Judkins, who in the Milwaukee game joined Henderson in failing to play for the first time this season. Up front, Fitch wishes he could schedule Rick Robey's good games to coincide with Dave Cowens' bad ones.
The entire team realizes the importance of the upcoming four weeks, for following the remainder of the Big 16 Games there is the matter of the first West Coast trip of the season (San Diego, Los Angeles, Golden State, Houston and San Antonio). They all know there will be a seven-game home stand in January, and that if they can play, say, .600 ball before it starts they will be in excellent shape for the remainder of the season.
But that is in the dim and distant future for Fitch. Today he is thinking about Kevin Loughery's traps and zone presses and George Johnson's rejections and Eddie Jordan's penetration and Mike Newlin's shooting and, well, you get the idea. He's got all he needs to worry about today. Tomorrow he can start worrying about everything else.