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32-9 Celtics Ready to Start Second Half of Season
CELTICS GLITTER EVEN WITHOUT COWENS, CARR
Half done is half done. If you had asked the same question halfway through the first time I saw "Gone With The Wind", I'd given you the same answer.BILL FITCH
The record speaks for itself, and one need only to glance at the NBA standings to see that the Celtics have reached the halfway point at a pace which by any criteria must be called remarkable.
Boston starts the second half tonight with a 32-9 record, which is actually one victory more and one loss less than their record at the same time a year ago when they won the Atlantic Division title and compiled the NBA's best won-loss record (60-22). The Chicago Bulls will be the opponents tonight at the Garden (7:30, Ch. 4, WBZ radio), and four of the Celtics' victories this season have been at their expense.
"When you think about it," said Red Auerbach, "it's really something. Here is a team that has had to operate without Dave Cowens and M.L. Carr most of the way. When any team loses two key starters like them you'd be happy if they were at .500. Do you think the 76ers would do as well if they lost, say, Bobby Jones and Darryl Dawkins?
"We're fortunate that we have guys who were able to step in and do the job. People talk about the trade and the fact that we got Robert Parish from Golden State, and what a difference that makes. The trade is really Joe Barry Carroll for Kevin McHale. The Warriors got somebody who is putting people in the seats. We got a guy, Parish, who is playing very, very well, and a player in McHale who figures to be around for a long time."
The halfway point is no magical mark. Things can change. Philadelphia is leading the Atlantic Division by three games over Boston and has the best record at 36-7. But since the two teams have five more meetings this year even before they start thinking about playoff confrontations, the only thing that really matters is that Boston continues to play well.
"Well, I told the guys this morning," said coach Bill Fitch yesterday, "that if this team could go 32-9 in the second half of the season I might be happy. I don't feel we have a better or worse record than a year ago. We were about this same point a year ago, but the schedule is a lot tougher."
Fitch is traditionally long on hindsight and short of pure praise of his troops. He has never portrayed himself as a benevolent leader or a good buddy to his players, but he adds he thinks they understand that he is not being paid to do either.
"I tell them all the time," he quipped. "I may not always be right about the things I decide, but I'm the boss, so that also means I'm never wrong."
It was Fitch's decision to revamp the Celtic offense that is responsible for the team getting off to its flying start. The loss of Cowens before the season started was a crusher. Losing Carr through injury a few weeks later could have been a fatal blow, especially with Philadelphia playing so well.
"But we were actually able to completely change things around in about a week," he said. "Really, we had the best defensive center in the league and an offense that was built around his ability to shoot from outside. We don't even use any of those plays now. But one thing you have to make clear. I call the shots, but the players must do it on the floor. That's tougher. Of course, sometimes it's even tougher to just sit there and watch them try to do it."
One of the things that Fitch has enjoyed watching this season has been the growth of the Celtics' defensive skills to complement their offense, which is still based on the fast break despite the fact that Boston is far from being fleet-footed. He is pleased with the growth of Rick Robey and Gerald Henderson as backup players who more than fill the job. And the smile on his face when you speak of McHale says more than just words.
"Robey this year has been more consistent coming off the bench, which wasn't always the case when he was behind Cowens last year. Of all the players on the team, now, he is the best at coming off the bench and starting at 100 miles an hour. Henderson has gotten better. Just today we worked for five full minutes with Eric Fernstein.
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