The Cowens-Era Celtics Deserve More Respect

The 1974 and the 1976 Celtics were my teams. I became a Celtics' fan on day one of the 1974 Finals. Cowens v. Jabbar. Celtics v. Bucks. The Bucks were the prohibitive favorites. The Celtics didn't stand a chance. That was enough for me. I'm rooting for the Celtics. The memories are so vivid, I even remember the pair of shoes my parents bought for me when we went out for dinner before game 1 started.

Until the 1985-86 season, the two best Celtics teams I ever saw were the 1974 and 1976 teams. The 1981 teams was good, but didn't play basketball at a consistently high level. The 1984 team was fortunate to walk away with a banner. You could say the same thing about the 1974 Celtics, who won the championship only after going the full seven games, or the 1976 Celtics, who lost two in a row in Phoenix, and required three overtimes to keep them from going down 3-2, heading back to Phoenix. Still, the 1970s Celtics champions exuded excellence and superiority, and you expected them to win.

Case in point.

Watching game 5 last night, the first quarter began with a Celtics steamrolling their way to a 20-4 lead. Paul Silas, of all people, was leading the way. Fifteen footers, seventeen footers, driving layups. Silas was a man possessed. "Phoenix Suns coach John McCleod may have to reconsider his game plan if Paul Silas continues to assert himself offensively," said Rick Barry, who was providing color for the game. You can almost hear Mark Jackson echo those sentiments about Leon Powe during game 2 of the 2008 NBA Finals.

Just when you figured the Celtics' run would stop, it continued. The Celtics began zipping passes around the horn, running give-and-goes, and pick-and-rolls, all the while Dave Cowens is dominating the glass on both ends. 36-18 at the end of one. One of the best exhibitions of pure basketball that I have ever seen, including the infamous 36-6 quarter against the Hawks in the 1986 Eastern Conference Semis. The 1970s Celtics champions could hang with any Celtics team in history.

Which is why it surprises me that neither team makes Bob Ryan's list of top ten Celtics' teams. Yes, the 1972-73 Celtics make the list. But, Bob, they didn't win the title! How do they make the list and neither the 1974 or 1976 teams do? Ditto for the 1985 and 1987 teams. I mean, come on.

Back to the Celtics-Suns game. Midway through the second quarter, we see back-up center Jim Ard dipsy-doo his way through the paint for a finger roll. Someone tell me the name of a back-up center on the 1985 or 1987 squads who could do that (and don't say Bill Walton, cuz he was useless in 1987). A couple minutes later Glenn McDonald drains an 18-footer, nothing but net. But for McDonald's steal in OT, the Celtics probably don't win the game. Using McDonald at the three allows Hondo to move to the back court. Hmmm. A 6-7 off guard with off-the-chart skills and a championship pedigree. I don't think the 1985 or 1987 teams had anything like that.

One of these two 1970s championship teams deserves a top-five mention in Celtics' lore. I don't care which one. But one of them deserves some love.

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