October 22, 1980
On Monday, Bill Fitch sent them out on a three-hour forced march with full field pack and just a half-filled canteen of water. Yesterday, he eased up with a standard two-hour, off-day practice, declaring at its conclusion that he was pleased.
We are to presume, therefore, that the Celtics are well-prepared for tonight's game with the New Jersey Nets (8 o'clock, no TV, WBZ radio). We are told that the Celtics will no longer be outrebounded, will no longer throw the ball away at crucial moments, will, in other words, no longer defeat themselves.
We shall see.
"Mental errors," said Fitch. "I preached about that. Against Indiana (a 103-99 Saturday night loss) we had a team of (Robert) Parish, (Cedric) Maxwell,(Larry) Bird, (Chris) Ford and (Nate) Archibald out there at the end. Those people have a lot of experience, but they still made a lot of mental errors."
The Celtics worked hard Monday on their offense. They worked hard yesterday on their running game. Fitch was not pleased when the proceedings began. He was much happier afterwards, saying that the team was making "progress."
What would aid the situation greatly, of course, would be a big larrybird game from Larry Bird. But the team's best player has been in a slump. He is shooting poorly (38 percent), rebounding poorly (no offensive rebounds the past two games) and not playing good individual defense. He is even - gulp - making weird passing decisions. What gives?
"He is not completely healthy," Fitch asserts. "He has a sciatic nerve condition that is affecting his back and legs. I've known since the summer that he's had it, but I didn't realize how much it was bothering him."
Typically, Bird would not concede this fact to the press. Instead, he answered direct queries concerning his health by saying he was healthy. As for his weak offensive rebounding, he simply said that "I just haven't been going to the boards hard." He then promised to rectify that situation this evening.
Fitch has plenty of respect for tonight's opponent, who will carry a 4-3 record into the Rutgers Athletic Center. "Their frontcourt is shooting well. Their guard play has been good. And they've been getting a big lift from the bench. Any time you can bring in two of the top 10 picks in the draft (center Mike Gminski and forward Mike O'Koren) off the bench, and any time you can make a trade like (Roger) Phegley for Footsie (Walker), you've improved yourself."
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