Why are the Celtics So Good? Perhaps the Answer Rests with #5

At times, it looks like one of those practice drills where the assistant coach throws up a deliberately missed shot, and the clubs runs a dummy 5-on-0 fast break following the retrieve. But for the Celtics ' opponents, the scene is all too real. Bill Walton has the capacity to make defensive rebounding look so easy that often there might as well be no rivals around. When he secures position underneath, it is now all over. An opponent's missed shot is a Walton rebound and a subsequent Boston transition.

Bill Walton is rebounding better as the season goes on. Three of his best rebound efforts have come this past week, four if you throw in his 22-minute, 10-rebound performance Monday night in Dallas. In the last 17 games (not counting his five-minute stint the night his nose was broken in Landover, Md.), he has been without question the most productive rebounder in basketball. Throw out his five minutes and one rebound last Saturday night, and he has had 151 rebounds in his last 374 minutes on the floor, which comes to a rebound approximately every 2 1/2 minutes. He's devastating; that's all.

And you talk about a happy man . . . "I feel very good," he says. "I have a real good sense of where the ball is going right now, and my legs feel really good. I can attribute that to the minutes I'm playing. I'm averaging 19 minutes a game, and that's the least I've ever tried to play." Keep in mind that Walton was playing this way last year, only nobody within a six-block radius of the Los Angeles Sports Arena was aware of it. When the Celtics picked up Walton during the off-season, they acquired the 1984-85 NBA leader in rebounds per minutes played, which happened to be the league's best- kept secret. The difference for Walton this year is that he doesn't have to work as hard to be as productive.

It's all a matter of the new on-court company he's keeping. "It helps when you're playing with good defensive players," Walton says. "Our defense is very, very good, and our opponents often wind up taking difficult shots, which are easier to rebound. It's not easy shooting an 18- foot jumper with a Dennis Johnson, Danny Ainge or Larry Bird in your face." The truth is that Walton is the one who eventually makes it look easy. He has every necessary rebound ingredient, including size, strength, positioning sense, jumping ability, timing and, most important, desire. "I love this facet of the game," he says. "That's when I really love basketball, when you can play the tough D, make an opponent take a bad shot, get the ball off the boards and watch a fast-break basket."

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