At this time, there seems little point in analysing, over-evaluating, micro-scrutinising or even mulling over the Celtics roster, because if we take a snap-shot of the roster at any specific moment, the make-up is likely to have significantly changed before we get the final print developed. Instead, let us look forward to what this exciting breed of new Celtics stars might one day offer us, by looking back at some moments from Celtics greats of the past.
"The Top Ten of Everything" is a book that was published over here in Britain, probably in the late-eighties, a period of time I will be revisiting over the course of this article. I have no idea whether it was popular in the States. The most interesting thing about it was the top ten most unusual phobias, which included things such as moustaches and bread. For some reason that stuck in my mind all this time. Anyway, I have decided to resurrect the concept as an excuse to revisit some great moments from Celtics history.
These lists are by no means exhaustive, since I was only born in 1976 and living across the pond prevents me from seeing all Celtics games, but I have endeavoured to include all of the most famous moments I have seen or heard about, including a few personal favourites. I would welcome your submissions for any of these categories (especially from you older guys) and, naturally, my selections are open to debate.
I will look at three different categories today, but if this is a popular concept, I will look at some other categories another time. Anything to wile away those days until November, eh?
The Top Ten Buzzer Beaters not by Larry Bird in Celtics History
(Note: To qualify, the shot must affect the result…60 foot heaves in the first half need not apply).
10. The game winner that wasn't. John Havlicek v Phoenix, NBA Finals 1976, 2nd overtime period. Hondo Havlicek curled off a screen and hit a fifteen foot runner as time expired to eclipse the Suns. Bedlam ensued as thousands of fans ran on the court. One problem: Time hadn't expired and some craft Paul Westphal shenanigans followed by an improbable Gar Heard fadeaway would send the game to a third OT. The C's would eventually win by two.
9. A Minor miracle. Greg Minor v Denver, c. 1996. With the score tied and only 0.4 seconds on the clock, the game seemed destined for overtime. A botched lob play went over everybody's head and bounced off the top of the backboard to an alert Minor in the middle of the paint, who would catch the ball and flip it in from his hip as time expired. Minor never did live up to Tommy Heinsohn's hopes ("if this guy develops a pull-up jump shot on the break, I'm TELLING ya, he'll average 20 points a game in this league"), but he sure did father a lot of illegitimate children (allegedly).
8. The old man delivers. Robert Parish v Cleveland, 1991. With the game on the line and Larry Bird in the hospital with an ailing back, the Celtics got a career night out of Ed Pinckney and kept alive their slim hopes of an improbable (and ultimately successful) run to the Atlantic division crown. When they needed a hero though, it was the Chief who stepped up and nailed a game-winning jump shot from the elbow as the buzzer sounded and then calmly accepted the congratulations of his teammates before returning to the locker room to prepare for the next game.
7. Finally! Paul Pierce v Portland, last season. Pierce had been in a slump in terms of hitting game winning shots and hadn't made one since a left handed drive beat the Heat at the horn a couple of years earlier. When he swished an off-balance fadeaway with a guy in his face to give the C's a much needed win, it got the Celtics some momentum, but as we know, there were more ups and downs for last year's Celtics than there were for Paris Hilton's bedsprings. Pierce celebrated by leaping up onto the scorer's table and letting out a primal scream. I'll leave it to you to decide whether you prefer this to the Chief's reaction. With the albatross off his back, Paul would hit three consecutive game winners towards the end of the year.
6. Huh? Kevin McHale v Detroit, 1988 Conference Finals. With the clock winding down and the Celtics in big trouble, about to go two games down, the Celtics got an incredible lift, when, of all people, Kevin McHale buried an improbable three to send the game to overtime. The Celtics would go on to win the game, but would eventually fall short in the series. Over the next few years, McHale suddenly started shooting the occasional three. In 89/90 and 90/91 (the only two years where he shot over 20) he shot 35.8% which is actually better than Antoine Walker's career percentage…and the same as Pierce's.
5. A Star is Born. Antoine Walker v Washington, c. 1998. Young Celtics forward Antoine Walker had shown great promise over the course of his young career. On this night, facing two of the best young forwards in the league (Juwan Howard and Chris Webber), Walker would come of age. He punctuated a terrific all-round performance of taking it to the hoop, hitting mid-range jumpers, rebounding, dishing and running the floor, by hitting a turnaround jumper at the buzzer to give the C's a win. He would score 49 against the same team a year later. What the heck happened?
4. Better to be Lucky than Good. Don Nelson v Lakers, NBA Finals 1969. In game seven, the Lakers finally thought they were going to overcome the Celtics. This looked even more likely when Don Nelson bricked a jumpshot with seconds to go and the shot clock expiring. However, the ball bounced up and dropped through the hoop and the Celtics hoodoo over L.A. continued.
3. Sam Kind of Wonderful. Sam Jones v Lakers, NBA Finals, 1969. Jones hit a last second jump shot to win game four by one point. Always one for the dramatic, Jones made the ball bounce twice on the front of the rim before it dropped.
2. Take that! Dennis Johnson v Lakers, NBA Finals, 1985. OK, so the Lakers would ultimately prevail in the best of seven series, but you have to admit, seeing D.J. take a kick-out pass from Larry Bird and drain an open jumper at the buzzer to silence the Forum was probably one of the best single moments of the Celtics/Lakers rivalry.
1. Cooz the man? Bob Cousy v Syracuse, NBA Playoffs, 1953. On an incredible night, Bob Cousy would simply not allow the Celtics to lose. He scored 50 points and led the Celtics to a quadruple-overtime victory that gave them their first ever playoff series win. Cousy made the record books by hitting 30 of 32 free throws, but has there ever been a more clutch shot than his 30-footer as time expired to send the game into a fourth overtime?
The Top Ten Steals in Boston Celtics History
10. Emmette Bryant v. Lakers. NBA Finals 1969. Emmette Bryant only played 2 seasons with the Celtics, but made one of the biggest plays during the 1969 finals. Bryant's steal with the C's down one with seven seconds left, would give Sam Jones a chance to even up the series at two (see above). Bryant's son, Mark would go on to play for the Celtics in 2003 and his grandson Kobe would become a Laker. (Not really).
9. Robert Parish v Lakers. NBA Finals 1984. The Chief came up with a huge steal in game two after Scott Wedman's jumper with 14 seconds to go in overtime had given Boston a 122-121 lead. Incredibly, this wasn't even the biggest steal of the game, though. (See below).
8. Al Jefferson and Gerald Green. At 15 and 18? In consecutive years? Are you kidding me? Hopefully, in years to come, this may be looked upon as even bigger than the 8th biggest steal in franchise history. It makes the list for its "upside".
7. Kenny Anderson v New Jersey. Eastern Conference Finals 2002. The greatest comeback in playoff history was punctuated when, seconds after the Celtics took the lead back for the first time Anderson made a steal and went coast to coast for a (goaltended) lay-up. The roof almost lifted off the fleetcenter and Paul Pierce would soon be back up on that scorer's table. Kenny actually had it pretty easy as Kerry Kittles threw the ball to no-one in the backcourt. Somewhere, Kittles is going to be on the top ten list for worst passes in Nets history.
6. M.L. Carr v Lakers, NBA Finals, 1984. Another classic overtime game was clinched when M.L. Carr stole James Worthy's inbounds pass with six seconds to go and dunked to clinch a 129-125 win. Larry Bird had just given the Celtics a lead with a turnaround jumper over Magic.
5. Milt Palacio v Nets, 2000. Down two, Nets ball at half-court, under two seconds remaining. How the Nets managed to lose this game is anyone's guess. The inbounds pass was stolen by Palacio, who managed to launch a 30-footer just before the buzzer. Amazingly, it went in and gave the Celtics an implausible 112-111 victory. This was the highlight of Palacio's short-lived Celtics career and probably his NBA career as a whole. Sadly, it was probably the highlight of the Rick Pitino era too. (And yes, it probably should have been in the buzzer beaters list, but I had more to work with there).
4. Gerald Henderson v Lakers, NBA Finals 1984. Another guard whose signature moment was a game-saving steal was Gerald Henderson. Another James Worthy assist, as Henderson ghosted in to tie the game with 13 seconds remaining. Another steal would later preserve the win (see above).
3. Kevin McHale and Robert Parish for Joe Barry Carroll and Rickey Brown. What? I've seen you guys come up with some pretty terrible trade ideas, but what on earth were the Warriors smoking when they agreed to this deal?
2. John Havlicek v Sixers, Eastern Division Playoff, 1965. Game Seven and up one, Bill Russell had just made an uncharacteristic mental error to give the Sixers a chance to win with five seconds left. Guess what? Hondo had his back and his leaping pick-off gave Johnny Most the chance to shine brighter than ever.
1. Larry Bird v Pistons, Eastern Conference Finals, 1987. Best play I have ever seen. Full stop (that means "period" where I'm from). The game (which even without this finish was a classic) was over and the Pistons had won. I still can't believe how Larry appeared in a puff of smoke to pick off Isiah's pass and feed it to a cutting D.J. for the game winner with one second left. Everything about this play is perfect, from the reaction of the crowd (including some who were on their way out of the building) to the reaction of the Pistons players. I must have watched it a thousand times and I've never seen anything in sport as exciting.
The Top Ten Blocked Shots in Celtics History
10. Rick Fox on Hubert Davis. It was Celtic rookie Rick Fox's first ever NBA game. The Celtics were hoping that he would be their third decent late first rounder in five years (after Brown and Lewis). He was quite impressive early on, hitting a couple of threes, but it was his stuff of a driving Hubert Davis that showed off his excellent defensive abilities. Fox would go on to become a captain of the Celtics and won three championships. Unfortunately, all three championships were with the Lakers.
9. Greg Kite on Magic Johnson. In game three of the 1987 Finals, little-used Greg Kite came off the bench to rescue the Celtics, whose aging veteran frontcourt was struggling to keep pace with the Lakers running game. Kite grabbed nine rebounds and played excellent defense on Kareem, but his most memorable play was a leaping rejection of Magic Johnson, where he not only blocked the shot, but also caught the ball. If you haven't ever seen Greg Kite play, think Ned Flanders.
8. Kevin McHale on his college roommate. No story captures Ol' Chickenchest's personality quite like this. I can't remember the name, but Kevin's old roommate was trying to make it in the NBA, so Kevin said "I'll let you score, if you let me score next time down". His old buddy went baseline and put up a short shot, which Kevin swatted into the crowd. "Not really," he said.
7. Robert Parish on Gerald Wilkins and Hot-Rod Williams. Everyone thought they could score on the old man, but in this 1992 clash, the Chief would not be posterised. Wilkins found his right handed dunk turned back by a clean Parish block and then, moments later, Williams put up a shot that Parish swatted to Sherman Douglas, who fed Alaa Abdelnaby for a fast break jam. The Celtics would go on to win the game and the Atlantic Division with an amazing winning streak, coupled with a Knicks collapse.
6. Bill Russell – Honourable mention. Whilst I cannot pick out any one particular block from Russell's career (in fact, he used to deliberately deflect and retain the ball rather than swatting the ball more spectacularly), it would be remiss of me to ignore him on this list. What better spot to do that than at number 6. Red Auerbach estimated that Russell averaged 8 blocks a game, which (even if it is a major exaggeration) is unbelievable by today's standards. Russell used to warm up by jumping so that he was at eye level with the rim and Wilt Chamberlain was one of the first basketball players to lift weights. That's why these two were so dominant, but it's no reach to say that although they were clearly ahead of their time, they could have played today.
5. Dee Brown on Michael Jordan. Jordan's patented turnaround jump-shot was impossible to stop…except on this occasion, Dee leapt up and turned it back with his left hand. I also remember Paul Pierce and Reggie Lewis doing the same, but Dee gets the nod because he is five inches shorter than M.J. I have never seen anyone who can jump like Dee Brown.
4. Robert Parish on Victor Alexander. With the Celtics up two and less than ten seconds to go, Tim Hardaway drove at Parish and dished off to Alexander at the rim. Parish jumped up and blocked Alexander's two-handed dunk attempt above the rim and tied him up for a jump ball. Chief then won the jump ball for good measure and the C's won by five.
3. Larry Bird on Chuck Person. This was the ultimate embarrassment for Person, who had been jawing at Bird from the start of this first round playoff series. Person went strong to the hole and was met by Bird, who blocked the shot in mid-air and stripped the ball away and then started talking trash before he had landed, which given Larry's legendary lack of hang-time is no mean feat. Bird would get the last laugh too, as he heroically returned from a fractured cheekbone to spark the Celtics in the Game Five decider.
2. Marcus Banks on Steven Hunter. What a play this was from last year. When a seven footer sees his two handed dunk not only blocked, but swatted by a six footer, you have yourself a pretty spectacular play. Great call by Tommy Heinsohn, too.
1. Dee Brown on Kendall Gill. I told you – no-one can jump like Dee Brown. Here he followed up another block from moments earlier with a flying, two-handed swat of Gill (himself a former slam-dunk contest participator). What was remarkable about this play was that Dee basically had to duck to avoid hitting his head on the rim and do the splits to avoid crashing into Gill. Sadly, this game will be remembered as Reggie Lewis' last, but Dee's play was certainly unique.
That's all for now, but I have already started to compile some more lists for another time. Any requests?