This Date in Celtic History: Don Nelson’s iron-man streak ends

It was exactly 45 years ago this very evening (actually, late night) Saturday December 16, 1972, in the Pacific Northwest outpost of Portland, Oregon, that something occurred during an NBA ballgame that hadn’t happened for over five years, since February 1, 1967 – Boston Celtic veteran Don Nelson did not play, snapping an extraordinary streak of 463 consecutive regular-season appearances.

No. 19 had to leave Friday’s victory over Wilt Chamberlain and the defending champion LA Lakers with an ankle problem that would sideline him through the New Year. Nellie would miss eight games in a row – 10 of the next 12 – before returning to full-time duty. Don Nelson would not miss another Celtic game until October 23, 1974.

Deja-vu all over again?

Tommy Heinsohn’s ’72-73 team broke from the starting blocks a lot like the Stevens crew did this season, standing at 24-3 following the Dave Cowens-inspired trouncing of the Lakers. Big Red put up a 31-19-6 stat line in a game that LA coach Bill Sharman clearly wanted to win (all five Laker starters played 40+ minutes that night, wilt with 44).

There are several similarities between that 68-win group and the current squad: a versatile but underappreciated vet (Havlicek-Horford), a couple of athletic young studs (White/Don Chaney-Tatum/Brown), an apparent MVP candidate (Cowens-Irving). Of course, Heinie didn’t lose his key off-season acquisition (Paul Silas/Hayward) five minutes into the season.

Heinsohn’s Celtics had to wait a year to raise Banner No. 12.

How times have changed!

Ironically, as the five-time champion Nelson was sitting out for the first time in half a decade, teammate Jo Jo White was 61 games into a streak that would ultimately reach 488 games and still stands as a franchise record.

During the nine seasons he played for Boston, Nelson participated in all 134 post-season tip-offs.

Abacus Revelation for the Road

If you ever saw Don Nelson the player shoot FT’s, you know why Don Nelson the coach had no problem encouraging Manute Bol to launch threes.