May 29, 1985
HE'S THEIR ENGINEER, BUT K.C. LACKS FAME
It is the strangest of coincidences. He never gets much credit, but K.C. Jones always seems to be standing there when the flags are raised and the rings are handed out.
He was a member of two NCAA championship teams and an Olympic gold-medal- winning team. He played on eight NBA champions in a nine-year career. He has been part of the second-longest winning streak in NCAA history (56 games, at the University of San Francisco) and the longest winning streak in NBA history (33, when he was an assistant coach with the Los Angeles Lakers). He has 11 NBA championship rings and a lifetime winning percentage of .683 (280-130) as an NBA head coach.
The 1984-85 Celtics haven't won a new crown yet. A 1-0 lead in a best-of- seven set with the Lakers is about as stable as the presidency of a banana republic. But on the heels of 63 regular-season victories, a 4-1 conquest of the mighty Philadelphia 76ers and a 34-point Game 1 smoking of the deified Lakers, maybe it's time Celtics fans started giving Jones some applause.
"It's quite interesting that a guy can accomplish as much as K.C. has and still he doesn't get the credit he deserves," says M.L. Carr. "You could probably find 16 coaches across the country with half as much ability and everybody'd be ready to crown them, but K.C. does not get his due.
"The man should have been coach of the year this year. Point blank. But even if we win the championship this year, next year it'll be the same thing. People will say we're supposed to win because we've got a lot of talented guys and Case won't get the credit. If it was me, I wouldn't be overlooked. I'd get my own TV show and tell you how good I am, but that's not Case's way."
The precision of Boston's victories over Philadelphia and Los Angeles indicate that something other than raw talent is guiding the Green. The Celtics had only one day to prepare for the rested Sixers, yet Boston was able to effectively minimize its own weaknesses while forcing and exploiting Philly breakdowns. After outplaying Moses Malone, Robert Parish credited Jones' defensive schemes. The Celtics held Philly to 100 or fewer points in four of the five games.
Two days ago, Boston stunned NBA America by outrunning the Lakers' greyhounds. When the Celtics got into the halfcourt game, they moved the ball with speed and precision. The result was a succession of wide-open jumpers for Danny Ainge and Scott Wedman, and ice cream turnarounds for Parish and Kevin McHale.
Defensively, the Celtics now wear the imprint of K.C. Jones, one of the best shutdown guards in NBA history.
"K.C. made this team a defensive team," says Carr. "Four years ago, we were a great team, but now we have more of a defensive personality, and it's his personality. We feel we can shut teams down now."
Since the 1985 playoffs started, the Celtics have stymied a succession of rival scoring machines. World B. Free scored but struggled against Boston. Detroit All-Stars Kelly Tripucka and Bill Laimbeer were muzzled, and Isiah Thomas was never the explosive force he can be. Julius Erving, Andrew Toney and Malone all stumbled in the Eastern finals, and on Monday, the Celtics were able to stop Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (12 points) and Byron Scott (5 for 14).
"Case has done a great job preparing us mentally and physically," says McHale. "He's helped us individually and as a group defensively, and I think that's our biggest improvement. He stresses it more and understands it more."
Still, there is little notoriety for the 53-year-old coach. His postgame quotes often lack imagination, and he's neither a self-promoter nor a chair tosser.
Earlier this season, Jones talked about his curious credit deficit: "It's always been a prevalent thought that when a team is very talented, you can just drop anybody in there and they can do the coaching. I just leave it alone. The people who want to think that already have their answer. If I get to thinking about it, it takes my mind off the club. Does it bother me that I don't get the recognition? No, as long as the guys win games. That's my reward, and that's what keeps me on the job.
"I'm awfully smart at the game of pro basketball," he added. "I've spent a lot of time in it as a player and a coach. My record is a combination of myself and my players. I could be a genius at the game and try to get that point across to the world, but I prefer having my players come across as the geniuses."
Still, team president Red Auerbach sees red and says, "The coach of the year a lot of times is a popularity contest. They prefer to give it to a guy who finishes second after the so-called experts picked his team fourth. How much can you do more than win? K.C. or Billy Cunningham or Pat Riley should have been coach of the year this year. Case has no help from last year. We gave away a first stringer (Gerald Henderson), he had the same guys back and got the best record again.
"His bench work is very, very good. I think that's his strongest point - substituting . . . K.C. is improving all the time. He knows how to communicate and he knows how to get mad. He doesn't get stepped on."
He just gets ignored. But on a day when Cunningham resigned, Kevin Loughery was fired and Hubie Brown did homework for CBS, K.C. Jones was quietly plotting the course for another championship.