My top 15 Celtic wishes and shoulda, woulda, coulda's...
|The closest to Celtics' green Galis ever got|
By Cort Reynolds
Over the years, every franchise has had many positive events that could and should have happened but did not due to injuries, bad luck, bad calls, bad trades, etc. The Celtics, with a league-best 17 titles, may have endured less of these "what might have been" moments than most, but the ones they have suffered have been costly ones. Here are the top 15 things I wish would have happened in Celtic history, but unfortunately did not.
#15: Keep Nick Galis. The nearly 30 point a game scorer out of Seton Hall wanted more money, so Red Auerbach balked at the bushy-haired rookie of Greek extraction. Besides, he had already doled out a huge contract for Larry Bird, so who needed a 6-0 scoring guard, right? Wrong.
Because it turned out to be a huge mistake to let Galis go overseas, where he became one of the greatest guards and offensive players in European history.
Nick and Larry played together in the 1979 Pizza Hut All-Star Game. If they had teamed up with their offesnive wizardry in the NBA, Bird and Boston may well have won the titles in 1980, 1982, 1985 and 1987 that narrowly got away.
Even Red called not signing Galis one of his biggest mistakes, and for years afterward tried in vain to get the proud Galis to come back to the States. But to no avail. Oh, what might have been...
I find it telling that in the combined 40 years or so since iconic franchises like the Celtics and Montreal Canadiens moved into new digs, these proud teams - who lead their respective leagues with the most championships - have combined to win just ONE combined title since 1993. Hmm.
#13: Not jettisoning power forward Paul Silas after winning the NBA title in 1976. Boston thought the hard-working, unselfish Silas was over the hill when they sent him packing in return for the talented, but much more selfish and younger Sidney Wicks. Dave Cowens was so upset at the loss of his hard-nosed, board-banging buddy Silas that he took a 50-day leave of absence early in the 1976-77 season.
Wicks gave Boston more scoring punch but Boston realized how much they lost in intangibles with the loss of Silas, who was a fine defender and great rebounder who didn't shoot a lot and ran the floor well. With Wicks instead of Silas, the Celtic chemistry suffered and they lost a tough 7-game eastern semifinal series to the 76ers. And then they were terrible the ensuing two seasons and nearly did the inconceivable franchise swap with the Braves before the arrival of Larry Legend.
Meanwhile, the valuable Silas went on to help Seattle to within a game of winning the 1978 NBA title, and then won his third ring in '79 for the Sonics as a key reserve with his experience and offensive rebounding expertise.
#12: Not trading budding All-Star Paul Westphal to the Suns in 1975. It appeared an easy decision to move the 25-year old guard into the starting lineup when defensive ace (but offensively- challenged) Don Chaney jumped to the ABA following the 1975 season, which ended in the conference finals with a 4-2 loss to the Bullets.
Westphal had apprenticed as a third guard for three seasons, playing well and scoring almost 10 ppg in 1974-75 after playing a key role in their game 7 win at Milwaukee during the 1974 Finals. But his flashy style sometimes clashed with the conservative approach of coach Tom Heinsohn.
Charlie Scott. Scott did play well for two years and helped Boston to the 1976 title.
But Westphal almost led the Suns to an upset of Boston in the '76 Finals, and was arguably the best guard in the NBA from 1975-80. The older Scott was basically done as a good player by 1977.
Then again, maybe if they keep Westy the Celtics don't get bad enough to draft Larry Bird as a junior eligible in 1978. On the other hand, maybe they get both and win even more with Paul and Larry.
#11: I wish John Havlicek had stayed around long enough to play one last season with Bird as sixth man in Larry's rookie seaosn of 1979-80. If he does, maybe he gives Boston the playoff experience and bench power needed to win it all, instead of losing to the 76ers in the East finals despite having the best record in the NBA.
Imagine Hondo's non-stop cutting and movement away from the ball combined with Bird's incredible passing and court vision. They would have complemented one another quite well, with John getting lot of eays layups and backdoors from Larry, and spreading the floor for drives and open shots. Plus, Havlicek was a fine passer too and could have passed on some of his wisdom to the already precocious Bird.
For Hondo to go out in 1978 on a bad Celtic team that didn't even come close to making the playoffs was a shame. Considering Havlicek had played in the NCAA championship game all three of his varsity seasons at Ohio State, then won eight NBA titles and made it to at least the conference finals in 12 of his 16 seasons, such an ending seems incongruent and quite simply, wrong.
As the most understated of Celtic superstars later said, "If I had known this kid Bird was coming, I would have hung around to play with him." When Hondo retired in 1978 at 38 when he was still scoring just over 16 ppg, so it is easy to see the NBA's best-conditioned player still contributing two years later at 40, a la John Stockton. Then he could have gone out on an appropriate high note, perhaps with banner number 14 and number nine for Hondo, the consummate winner.
#10: Boston should have made Larry Bird Red's assistant to learn all the ins and outs at the hands of the master so the smartest player of his time, if not arguably all time, could take over when Auerbach was fully done. Danny Ainge has done a pretty good job, but does anybody think he has done better than Bird would have done? Or even Don Nelson?
Doesn't anyone think it is strange that none of the great 1970's Celtics who went on to coach elsewhere never coached Boston (I know Cowens did, but that was a brief player-coach stint). Don Nelson, Cowens, Paul Silas, Don Chaney and Paul Westphal all enjoyed success coaching at a lot of NBA stops, but not in Boston. Hmm. Must have been some burned bridges.
Now that I think of it, Ainge never coached Boston either, and they shouldn't have traded Danny to the Kings in the late 1980's. That took a lot of the heart, youthful energy and spunk out of an aging team.
#9: For Kendrick Perkins to be able to play game 7 of the 2010 Finals at LA healthy. Almost certainly Perkins would have made a major difference on the boards, which is where the Lakers won that highly intense game (along with the foul line). With a healthy Kendrick, who was hurt in game six, the Celtics have more depth and don't run out of gas or blow a double-digit second half lead to lose, 83-79. The green thus also win banner 18 and keep LA's title count at 15.
#8: Speaking of titles lost to injury, the 1972-73 Celtics embody that lamentation after they posted the best regular season record in the hallowed history of the franchise at 68-14, yet ironically came up just short of the first post-Russell crown.
Third-year great Dave Cowens won the season and All-Star Game MVP awards but was robbed of a chance to win the rare trifecta by adding the Finals MVP honor when superstar forward John Havlicek suffered a serious right shoulder injury in game three of the East finals vs. the eventual champion Knicks.
Teammate Paul Silas failed to call out a hard but legal screen set by the rugged Dave DeBusschere, and Havlicek ran blindly into the muscular Knick forward, nearly separating his shooting shoulder.
Without Hondo, arguably the NBA's best all-around player at the time, the Knicks built a 3-1 series lead. They rallied from way down to win a game four Easter Sunday double overtime epic in MSG as Hondo watched helplessly in street clothes.
Still, Boston managed to rally and tie it 3-3. But with Hondo ineffective, they lost game seven at home as they mustered only 78 points vs. the stifling New York defense.
The Lakers would likely have been relatively easy victims in the Finals for Celtic banner number 12; Boston had won all four games vs. LA fairly handily that regular season, and a 36-year old Wilt in his last season could never have kept up with a young Cowens. Laker power forward Happy Hairston was also injured and Jerry West, although still a big star, was in his penultimate campaign at 34.
#7: For the Rick Pitino regime to never have happened. Enough said.
#6: For Reggie Lewis to have lived and played several more seasons. Lewis had established himself as a genuine All-Star when he was tragically struck down in the prime of his career. So sad.
#5: But perhaps not as sad as the death of Len Bias before ever playing a game in the NBA. The Celtics, who almost never picked high in the draft, chose the sweet-shooting, high-leaping 6-8 Bias, the closest thing to Michael Jordan, with the second pick of the 1986 draft.
By comparison, through shrewd trades and mostly luck, the Lakers had the number one pick in 1979 (Earvin Johnson) and 1982 (James Worthy) despite already having one of the league's best teams.
Bias was a sure-fire superstar who would have extended the Bird dynasty for several more years - and banners. And Larry's legacy would be much different in the eyes of most non-Celtic fans with 4-5 more titles.
Along with Lewis, Bias would have carried the torch to the mid-1990's and beyond, making Boston at least a contender instead of a non-playoff team that was basically very bad for 15 years after Larry and Kevin McHale retired, battered, over-used and bruised.
|Celtics fans were deprived not seeing Len play|
#4: For Bill Walton and Scott Wedman to be healthy in 1986-87. With those two healthy in 1985-86, Boston had one of the league's best benches and boasted very arguably the greatest team in NBA history.
The next year, with the NBA' best sixth man and best seventh man hurt all year, and many of the starters racked by injury and over-use, Boston still guttily came within two wins of copping back-to-back crowns. With Walton and or Wedman healthy, as well as McHale (not to mention rookie Bias), it almost certainly would have happened.
#3: Speaking of 1987, how about the refs Earl Strom and Hugh Evans not to have blown so many calls late in game 4 of the 1987 finals. In the titanic rubber match of the their 1980's Finals showdowns, Boston trailed 2-1 but appeared poised to tie it as they built a 16-point second half lead. But then a series of bad calls and bad breaks cost the Celtics a chance to beat the healthier, younger and much better-rested Lakers.
To highlight just a few of the very bad calls, any of which ALONE would have made the difference in a 107-106 game...Evans missed a clear third-quarter goaltending call on Jabbar. Kareem actually knocked a Celtic putback out of the basket, yet Evans somehow called a goaltend on McHALE!?. Even Strom later admitted they missed the call.
Bird cleanly strip-blocked a Byron Scott fast break drive, but was called for a two-shot foul. A melee ensued, where AC Green and Scott both pushed and shoved McHale without provocation, but nothing was called on LA. Amid all the hubbub, Bird palmed the ball, took it to Evans and stood face to face with the ref who had blown the call by anticipating a foul, and just shook his head before walking away.
Michael Cooper kicked a Bird pass out of bounds. Neither ref clearly saw the play, which grazed his leg, so they called a jump ball. On the jump, Ainge dove for the ball and had it, but before any Laker could tie him up, they prematurely called another jump to avoid another melee, which LA won. So it was basically a turnover.
Cooper's step-back three in transition after a steal from Parish. Johnson drove in and passed back out to Coop, who caught the ball and clearly took at least 2 steps backward to get behind the arc and set his feet for the momentum-changing shot that pulled the Lakers to 103-100 with about a minute left.
On Bird's left corner trifecta that gave Boston a 106-104 lead with 12 seconds to go, James Worthy was literally holding Larry by the jersey throughout most of the possession with BOTH hands. Then, when LA came out of its clearly illegal ZONE defense and James charged out at Ainge on the perimeter (foolishly leaving Larry), Danny snapped a perfect feed to a corner-retreating Bird, who drained it even though Mychal Thompson flew out late and hit his arm on the follow through.
Another big missed call came with Jabbar shooting the potential tying foul shot with seven seconds to go. After making the first to cut the Boston lead to 106-105, Jabbar missed the second shot. But on the rebound, Thompson clearly shoved McHale in the back AND knocked the ball out of bounds and out of his hands when Kevin was about to pull the rebound in.
Evans did not see the play well as he was on the wrong side of the baseline. Earvin Johnson, as usual, cheerleaded the play and probably influenced the dubious call by Evans. Instead of giving the ball to the defensive team, as is usually the case in such situations, or calling a jump ball, Evans gave the ball to LA - near the basket, where it was easier to score the winning basket. On which, Johnson clearly traveled, but then again, didn't he almost always?
Oh, and here is one little stat to keep in mind; in the fourth quarter at Boston Garden the Lakers shot 14 free throws, and the Celtics shot just one. 14 to one! No wonder an enraged Red chased Strom, his spiteful long-time adversary and the renowned "road ref", into the official's locker room after the game.
If you doubt any of my claims, google and watch these second half calls on youtube. You will be amazed and probably disgusted, if you are a Celtics fan, or someone who just likes fair play. If Boston wins that fourth game and takes game five as they really did, chances are that the Lakers fold in one of the last two games and Boston wins the rubber match, Bird gets the upper hand on Johnson, and the Celtics win arguably the guttiest title ever.
#2 For Dave Cowens and Pete Maravich not to retire in pre-season 1980. One of the saddest stories in hoops history is that Pete Maravich never won a title or came close, then died young at 40 (playing a pickup game no less) when it was discovered too late that he had a congenital heart ailment that normally killed its victims by age 20!
|Legend & Pistol|
When ML Carr kicked a ball at practice that nearly hit Fitch, who had his back turned, the coach thought it was Maravich and used the incident to chew him out in front of the whole team.
A tired Pete silently took the tongue-lashing without asserting his innocence, then muttered, "I don't need this...I think I have shot one basket too many."
And thus he walked away into retirement, days after a 38-point exhibition game showing, when it was also apparent he was not going to unseat the less-talented but better-defending Chris Ford as the starting two guard. Had he stayed around that year, he gets that long-coveted ring.
The fiery Cowens tried to play that fall, but in the pre-season, plagued by foot injuries that hampered his great hustle and athleticism, he addressed the team on a bus trip, stunningly telling them he was going to retire from the Celtics.
Had the redhead stayed around one more year in Boston, he would have been part of the deepest and best frontline in NBA history: imagine Bird, Parish, Cowens, Maxwell, McHale and Robey together. Whew. With Pistol Pete in tow as well, it may have been the deepest team ever with Pete, Gerald Henderson and swingman Carr backing up Nate Archibald and Ford. In all six Hall of Famers...
It's too bad because those two, if the minutes could have been effectively metered out, would have certainly made a team that won the title anyway that much greater, maybe one of the greatest ever.
And Pistol Pete could have gone out a winner with that elusive championship, while Dave got his third ring. Along with Elgin Baylor, Karl Malone, Charles Barkley and John Stockton, Pete is on the best mythical starting five to never win it all, and perhaps the saddest one.
#1 For Larry Bird and Kevin McHale to have stayed healthy and to have seen what they could have accomplished the last five years of their careers together. Instead, McHale never recovered fully from the foot injuries he played the 1987 playoffs so valiantly with. He never had the same lift or quickness, and still limps to this day by playing severely hurt 27 years ago.
Bird, as every Celtic fan knows, also was hobbled by back and Achilles issues. The underrated athleticism and lithe movement Larry exhibited in his first four or five seasons was gone by 1988.
From 1987 on, Boston was usually a contender but never won another title. Had Kevin and Larry, the best forward tandem in NBA history, stayed healthy, who knows how many more banners they could have won. Especially with Len Bias and a healthy Walton and Wedman.
No team ever had a better inside-outside, two-man game between Kevin's vast array of post moves made even better by Larry's great shooting and underrated, nearly perfect post entry passing skills. When they lined up on the same side of the court, the opposition couldn't double either one without getting burned. Or pretty much if they played them straight up, either.