Celtics Played as if it were Just 1 of 82

February 9, 1984

When good teams play good teams in the NBA, there is a certain pattern of play. Astute teams recognize that, while it is impossible to play 48 or 38 or 28 or maybe even eight minutes of navel-to-navel defense, it is possible to play four or five. The trick is to select the right four or five. Sometimes all that's required is three or four possessions of maniacal team defense, during which the team on defense says to the team on offense, "Look, buddy, if you're going to score here, it's going to be on the second, third or fourth option, and it's going to be with a hand in your face." The Celtics never said that to the Lakers. Don't ask me why.

The Celtics simply did not play as if they recognized it was a big game, one of the very few out of the Big 82 that truly meant something. They should have wanted to give a message to the team which will represent the West in the NBA finals (I consider that the Mortal Lock of Mortal Locks in all of sports for 1984). They should have made LA rise above itself if it wanted to win a game in Boston Garden. It never happened. Don't ask me why.Having seen that, and having seen the way the Celtics refused to play those three or four minutes of defense that would have precluded an overtime in the Detroit game, I wasn't at all surprised to see them run out of the Garden by the Sixers on Sunday.

They may have come down with a case of the February blahs, in which case the burden is on coach K. C. Jones to shake them out of it. The big question concerning K. C. has always been firmness. In Bill Fitch's first three years (last year was a wipeout) he was able to make the Celtics eat their crusts and drink their milk to the bottom of the glass, even when they didn't want to. The Celtics have been telling us how happy they've been playing for good ol' Case. But I wondered from the start what would happen in February, when a player's internal motivation wanes. Can K. C. make these people put their minds on business?

The Celtics do have much to prove on this coast trip. The issue isn't whether they finish with 60 or 65 victories in the regular season. The issue is their overall mental attitude. They won't be bullying anybody in the playoffs, not with the strong likelihood of a Washington-New York- Philadelphia-Los Angeles path to a 15th championship. The time to develop that attitude is now.

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