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Grampa Celtic Eulogizes the 1989 Celtics (The Season without Bird)
Right up front, a confession.
I wanted the lottery. Wanted no part of the Pistons. That, as a baseball manager would say, is horsebleep thinking. From now on, I'm taking the pledge.
The Celtics didn't get the miracle they wanted from their abbreviated playoff run, but they got some questions answered about personnel (although the Kevin Gamble mystique was wonderfully preserved by his absence) and they did what an ex-champ should do, which is to exit in a dignified manner. The organization would have been the poorer had this series with Detroit not taken place.
At the same time, it's wise to remember this was No. 1 vs. No. 8. Most people predicted a sweep. But there were a lot of things people did not foresee, things like the emergence of Joe Kleine as a frontcourt factor, some rites-of-passage moments for Brian Shaw and some excellent team defense.
"I think they might have beaten a lot of teams," said Chuck Daly. "People looked at me aghast when I said I was prepared to go five, but I meant it. We were very fortunate to win the last two games."
The Pistons are a unique basketball team. They won this game with their injury-hampered marquee player shooting 1 for 9 and with their bench playing more minutes (128) than their starters (112). Each time, they took the game away from Boston with frightening defensive strangulation. In Game 1, it was a 10-point second quarter. In Game 2, it was a 13-point fourth quarter. In Game 3, it was a 12-point fourth quarter. That's 35 points in 36 minutes, which is almost unimaginable. But it happened, and there was nothing the Celtics could do about it.
"The key to the series was that in every game we had that one quarter where we were able to keep them in the low double digits," said Daly. "As a coach, you can preach defense and you can show them what to do. But they must go out and do it. We never talk about missed baskets on this team. We only talk about 'stops.' "
They also talk about their bench. James Edwards, Dennis Rodman and John Salley each played 30 minutes. Vinnie Johnson played 28. As a group, they had 51 points, 23 rebounds, 9 assists and all 6 of Detroit's blocks. And that doesn't include the defensive maneuvers, some subtle and some not so subtle, which turned this game around.
"The bench," said Joe Dumars, "was awesome tonight."
Each one did exactly what he does best. Salley and Rodman blocked shots and ran the floor. Edwards hit his turnaround jumpers. And Vinnie scored.
If there was a Lock of the Week, it was that Vinnie Johnson would make the Celtics pay for that opening game 1 for 9. Last night he was the Microwave of legend, scoring 10 points in the first five minutes he was on the floor and 25 in all, including a couple of fourth-quarter backbreakers. Nothing new was learned about Vinnie. Vinnie scores; therefore he is. Or vice versa.
Among the Celtics' deficiencies is that, at present, they have no Vinnies on their roster. Reggie Lewis might very well be the future Skinny Vinnie, when, and if, he becomes a sixth man when Larry Godot returns to action. People can rhapsodize all they want about the type of player the Celtics should pluck in the draft, but if this series proved anything, it's that whoever is the best pure shooter when the Celtics go up to the dish at No. 13 on the evening of June 27 should be their man.
Brian Shaw showed in this series that he's no 43 percent shooter, but he needs to develop both stamina and confidence before you can rely on him to hit pressure shots in the fourth quarter. Many of his superior efforts this season (that wonderful game in Phoenix comes to mind) peaked, for whatever reason, at the end of the third quarter, and last night's game was certainly no exception. But, hey, he's a kid, and would you like to know what the celebrated Microwave himself shot as a rookie 10 seasons ago? Huh, huh, would ya, huh?
Take note, Brian. And Reggie, for that matter. Your day will come.
There has been no Celtic season like this one since You-Know-Who showed up. Not defeating a .500 team on the road was both humiliating and mystifying, but there were still some nice moments. The team did, after all, defeat LA, without asterisks, and they played some other nice home games. Lewis went from a kid with a 10-point mentality to one with a 25-point mentality by the month of March, and the trade with Sacramento not only ensured that this year's team would make the playoffs, but also ensured that next year's will stick around long enough to do some damage.
It was not an easy year to be a Celtic fan, especially if you've got relatives in New York. But if you really are a Celtic fan, and do believe that Bird will return to a very high level, you will have a pleasant summer of anticipation.
"We believed this would be a tough series," said Dumars, "and the Celtics proved us right."
Praise from that guy is enough reason to make the playoffs right there.
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