CL Summer School 2018: “Game Know Game”

An old sports adage tells us – however ungrammatically – “Game Know Game!”

Prayers Up for Tiny!!
The notion will often conjure up images of Iversonian ankle-breaking crossovers, Pistol Pete prestidigitation or Wilt’s many assaults upon the record book; a Steph Curry shooting spree, a Mutombo swat into the fourth row or a Big O triple double.

But if all that comes to mind is a highlight reel, one misses the point … the crucial word in that little sentence is its verb, “Know.”

To this day, in the eyes of certain old-schoolers, no one had more “Game” than a schoolyard legend called “The Fly.” James Williams averaged over 28 points a game for this two seasons at Austin Peay in the early ‘70’s – inspired the most clever crowd chant of all time in the process – and is reputed to have rung up a 100-point game in Queens one summer night in 1978.

In the very first game of his one and only season in the big time (fittingly with the ABA’s zany Spirits of St. Louis), the slender, 6’5” forward got himself loose for a breakaway and tried to live up to his moniker. In the words of teammate and long-time NBA game analyst the late Steve “Snapper” Jones (via Terry Pluto’s Loose Balls):

He was going 100 miles per hour on a breakaway. All he had to do was just lay the ball over the rim or dunk it. Instead, he went for a 360-degree layup. He turned himself completely around and nearly spun himself into the floor and threw the ball right over the rim and the backboard … the total free spirit, no discipline; talent, but talent that was completely out of control.

This cat, for all that individual talent he could display, had no clue as to how to apply that skill set to a competitive situation. Fly had plenty of Game – he just didn’t Know how to play.

The pearl of wisdom in the cliché “Game Know Game” is an appreciation for and mutual respect among those savvy enough to use the proper skill at the appropriate time to gain competitive advantage and ultimately win.

Basketball at its finest is a “mind game” predicated on angles, distances and movement – that “trigonometry of the game” Coach Heinsohn has so often referenced in his commentary through the years.

Two of the sport's best “trigonometrists” – a couple of the best "Game Know Game” guys ever – became Boston Celtic teammates (each by a rather convoluted path, by the way) 39 summers ago on the heels of an ugly 29-win 1978-79 season.

The long worrisome (would he go back into the draft?) wait for Larry Bird had ended with his signing. A new coach (somewhat eccentric and from outside the Celtic “family”) had been procured.

The arrivals of the McHales, Parishes and Johnsons would come later, but awaiting the Birdman in the C’s practice facility at the time was a 30-year-old, fully rehabbed (from an Achilles injury that had cost him the entire ’77-78 season), rejuvenated and ready-to-go Nate “Tiny” Archibald.

The precocious rookie’s adjustment to the pro game was further greased by two other starters who, like Larry, had led their underdog teams to within a game of a collegiate championship – Cedric Maxwell and Chris Ford. (The starting unit in that first post-John Havlicek season was completed by the proverbial “last legs” of Dave Cowens.)

Under Archibald’s floor generalship, Maxwell was the NBA’s most accurate shooter (.609) that season while Ford (.427) and Bird (.406) placed second and third in the Association’s new wrinkle, the three-point shot.

As a team, Boston ranked No. 1 in three-point shooting (.384) in that inaugural season, No.2 in usage (.057) – essentially 1-in-20 of their shots was launched behind the arc. Chris Ford was the first player I ever saw “fill the lane” on a fast-break by running to the deep corner – used to piss me off, to be honest.

You know, there’s a funny thing about Knowledge of the Game – it includes an awareness that the circumstances of the competition are always “in flux,” they evolve and change.

For instance, the very next season – while returning two-thirds of the roster and four starters – the Celtics’ usage of the three-ball dropped by a whopping 40 percent. Ford and Bird, who’d combined for 307 3FGA’s in Season 1, together took only 183 in ’80-81 and saw their extra-terrestrial accuracies dip to .333 and .270, respectively.

Overall, that season’s champions-to-be slipped to No. 7 in 3FG shooting at .270 (though still No. 2 in usage at .034 despite such a prodigious drop-off).

Of course, Bird’s championship Year 2 brought with it the fruits of Red Auerbach’s notorious Grand Theft Vitale, namely Robert Parish and Kevin McHale – and changed the “Game”!

Here’s a little trivia question: Can you name the two players from the Celtics’ 1981 Banner 14-winning squad who, unlike Bird, Maxwell and Ford, had played for a national championship-winning team as a collegian? (Directly above, there are two "hidden hints" to the tough part of this question!!)

Abacus Revelation for the Road

Speaking of Mr. Auerbach and “Game,” all 16 Celtic title teams that bear Red’s fingerprint included at least one collegiate national champion … all except one had at least two … and his 1963 “Masters of the Game” boasted SIX players with NCAA gold.

The only Celtics to win a title without a college champion on the roster? The Doc Rivers crew a decade ago.

images: AP;;; getty