CELTICS NOTEBOOK BRAINPOWER FUELS FORD
His voice has that ring of honesty and authority. So when Chris Ford speaks, people listen.
"There is one thing I know for sure," said the veteran Celtic guard yesterday."When I retire, nobody is going to say that I lost a step."
In a sense, Ford has become a special kind of player since coming to Boston from Detroit for Earl Tatum. His physique suggests the time is near for him to step aside for younger and quicker hands and feet.
But Ford decided many years ago to ignore all such notions - for it also is true that survival in the NBA more often is a matter of native intelligence. There are junkyard dogs all over the NBA. Nobody will ever call Chris Ford that, either.
"Salty!" says his coach, Bill Fitch. "If this were a day for giving out nicknames, that's what I'd call him. He's solid. An all-around good player who is where he is because of his intelligence. It's something I tell guys all the time. When a player gets smarter he plays better."
Ford came to mind yesterday at Hellenic College where he was throwing in those long, soft shots during practice with the same ease that changed the way a lot of teams felt about the three-point play in the NBA last year. On Wednesday night he came out of a slump by hitting 9 of 16 shots, finishing with 19 points in Boston's 115-98 victory over Chicago. It came on the heels of a 1-for-9 performance against the same team, so naturally Ford was pleased with the turnaround.
"Maybe this means the little slump I've been in is over," he said. "But to tell you the truth, the things I did in that game were exactly the same things I did in Chicago. I know I'm not a good shooter. I'm not here for my shooting ability. But I'd like to think I can help the club in other areas of the game, with my intelligence."
A year ago Ford was the toast of the NBA for what now seems the strangest of reasons. He was the first player in league history to hit a three-point goal. He was in the middle of a stretch of 25 games in which he hit three- pointers in 24 of them. Teams knew his reputation as an outside shooter - slow release and not much of a move in any direction, including up. But, for about two months, any team that dared him to pop away paid the price.
He did cool off later, but he'd showed the Celtics and Fitch the value of the three-point goal as a strategic weapon, rather than a desperation measure. Now the Celtics are again stressing the long shot as a strategic weapon, though not necessarily from the three-point range. Both Ford and Tiny Archibald have been urged to take the open shot if it presents itself.
Ford, 31, may be underrated as a 6-foot-5 defensive player because he lacks the so-called quickness normally associated with smaller guards. But one need only to point out that his 43 steals this season are second on the Celtics to Larry Bird (54). And, last year, he had a total of 111 steals, most of which came from sticking in a paw at the right time.
"I think I'm playing pretty well outside of the occasional shooting slump," says Ford. "At least I don't feel I'm regressing. It's a different experience playing with a club that has shotblockers in the middle. "It means a lot, however. You can get beat on a play or make a mistake and feel confident there is somebody there to help you out. You can force guys to play a certain way and to make mistakes which you can take advantage of."
The Celtics have a considerable edge in muscle against most NBA opponents but that will not be the case tonight (7:20, WBZ) when the Houston Rockets come to town. Houston's starting five of Bill Paultz (6-10), Bill Willoughby (6-8), Moses Malone (6-11), Tom Henderson (6-5) and Robert Reid (6-5) is one of the tallest and most physical in the league. Malone is averaging 14.6 rebounds to go along with his 29.2 scoring average. son . . . Houston will be seeking to break an 11-game losing streak against Boston dating back to Dec. 17, 1978, and including four playoff games. Over the years, the Rockets have a dismal 3-24 record at Boston Garden . . . Larry Bird jammed his right thumb again in practice yesterday, but trainer Ray Melchiorre described it as mostly an "Oweeee," and expects Bird to play.