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Happy Holidays Tournament: Which Boston championship squad would win the all-time tournament of Celtic champions?

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Boston boasts a record 17 title teams, but only one can be the fabled franchise's best ever

Greg M. Cooper-USA TODAY Sports

Out of the NBA-record 17 championship teams the fabled Boston Celtic franchise has fielded, which is the very best of the best?


That is the question which engendered a fictional 17-team tournament of Celtic champions. Using the eye test on the Boston champs I have personally seen and studied from 1974 on, much reading and research, poring over Youtube clips of the older teams, and interpretive statistical analysis helped me figure out which legendary Celtic title squad I feel is the absolute cream of the cream of the crop.


The results follow below, series by series, through the all-time finals.

Championship year team (season record, playoff record, head coach, average points a game for-against) and key stats on starters and top reserves in parentheses.


PLAY-IN SERIES: #17 seed vs. #16 seed

1959 Celtics (52-20, 8-3, Red Auerbach, 116.4-109.9 ppg)

Starters:

Bill Sharman (20.4 ppg, 93.2 FT%)

Bob Cousy (20 ppg, 8.6 apg)

Tom Heinsohn (18.8 ppg, 9.7 rpg)

Bill Russell 16.7 ppg, 23 rpg)

Jim Loscutoff (8.3 ppg, 7 rpg)

6th man: Frank Ramsey 15.4 ppg, 6.8 rpg). Key reserves: Sam Jones (10.7 ppg), Gene Conley.


vs.


1957 Celtics (44-28, 7-3, Red Auerbach, 105.5 ppg-100.2 ppg)

Starters: B. Cousy (20.6 ppg, 7.5 apg)

B. Sharman (21.1 ppg, 90.5 FT%)

B. Russell (14.7 ppg, 19.6 rpg)

T. Heinsohn (16.2 ppg, 9.8 rpg)

J. Loscutoff (10.6 ppg, 10.4 rpg)

6th man: F. Ramsey (11.9 ppg). Key reserves: Jack Nichols (8.2 ppg), Arnie Risen (8 ppg, 6.7 rpg)


Analysis: Theses two teams had essentially the same lineups, but the '59 Celts were more experienced, more confident and deeper with newcomer Sam Jones leading the bench. It's a close call, but the deeper and more battle-tested 1959 club gets the nod.


Result: 1959 Celtics 4, 1957 Celtics 3


ROUND OF 16:

1986 Celtics (67-15 season, 15-3 playoff, head coach KC Jones, 114.1-104.7 ppg)

Starters:

Larry Bird (25.8 ppg, 9.8 rpg, 6.8 apg, 89.6 FT%, 42.3% 3's)

Kevin McHale (21.3 ppg, 8.1 rpg, 57.4 FG%)

Robert Parish (16.1 ppg, 9.5 rpg)

Danny Ainge (10.7 ppg, 5.1 apg, 90.4 FT%)

Dennis Johnson (15.6 ppg, 5.8 apg).

6th man: Bill Walton (7.6 ppg, 6.8 rpg). Key reserves: Scott Wedman (8 ppg), Jerry Sichting (6.5 ppg, 92.4 FT%).


vs.


1959 Celtics (52-20, 8-3, Red Auerbach, 116.4-109.9 ppg)

Starters: B. Sharman (20.4 ppg, 93.2 FT%)

B. Cousy (20 ppg, 8.6 apg)

T. Heinsohn (18.8 ppg, 9.7 rpg)

B. Russell 16.7 ppg, 23 rpg)

J. Loscutoff (8.3 ppg, 7 rpg)

6th man: F. Ramsey 15.4 ppg, 6.8 rpg). Key reserves: S. Jones (10.7 ppg), G. Conley.


Analysis: The 1986 Celtics had it all: great shooting and offense, great rebounding, fine defense, great passing, excellent depth, great size; all they lacked was foot speed.


Bill Walton was the 6th Man of the Year on arguably the deepest front line of talent in NBA history. McHale would overmatch Loscutoff badly and with Bird in his prime, even Russell and Cousy were no match for the greatest frontcourt in NBA annals.


Result: 1986 Celtics 4, 1959 Celtics 1


1963 Celtics (58-22, 8-5, Red Auerbach, 118.8-111.6 ppg)

Starters:

S. Jones (19.7 ppg, 5.2 rpg)

B. Cousy (13.2 ppg, 6.8 apg)

B. Russell (16.8 ppg, 23.6 rpg)

T. Heinsohn (18.9 ppg, 7.5 rpg)

T. Sanders (10.8 ppg, 7.2 rpg)

6th man: John Havlicek (14.3 ppg, 6.7 rpg). Key reserves: F. Ramsey (10.9 ppg), KC Jones (7.2 ppg), Clyde Lovellette (6.5 ppg).


vs.


1962 Celtics (60-20, 8-6, Red Auerbach, 121.1-111.8 ppg)

Starters:

T. Heinsohn (22.1 ppg, 9.5 rpg)

B. Russell (18.9 ppg, 23.6 rpg)

T. Sanders (11.2 ppg, 9.5 rpg)

B. Cousy (15.7 ppg, 7.8 apg)

S. Jones (18.4 ppg, 5.9 rpg)

6th man: F. Ramsey (15.3 ppg). Key reserves: KC Jones (9.2 ppg), J. Loscutoff (5.3 ppg).


Analysis: John Havlicek, a rookie on the 1963 Celtic champs, said of the 16 Boston squads he played for, the '63 team was the most talented one. With nine Hall of Famers on the roster, they were certainly loaded and deep.


There isn't much difference between the teams, besides Hondo, and the word of arguably the game's most understated superstar is enough for me, especially because of the better depth of the 1963 champs, who went out on top in Cousy's swansong.


Result: 1963 Celtics 4, 1962 Celtics 3


1974 Celtics (56-26, 12-6, Tom Heinsohn, 109-105.1 ppg)

Starters:

Dave Cowens (19 ppg, 15.7 rpg)

Paul Silas (11.5 ppg, 11.2 rpg)

J. Havlicek (22.6 ppg, 6.4 rpg, 5.9 apg)

JoJo White (18.1 ppg, 5.5 apg)

Don Chaney (10.4 ppg)

6th man: Don Nelson (11.5 ppg). Key reserves: Paul Westphal (7.2 ppg), Steve Kuberski (5.1 ppg).


vs.


1960 Celtics (59-16, 8-5, Red Auerbach, 124.5-116.2 ppg)

Starters:

T. Heinsohn (21.7 ppg, 10.6 rpg)

B. Cousy (19.4 ppg, 9.5 apg)

B. Sharman (19.3 ppg, 86.6 FT%)

B. Russell (18.2 ppg, 24 rpg)

F. Ramsey (15.3 ppg)

6th man: S. Jones (11.9 ppg). Key reserves: G. Conley (6.7 ppg), KC Jones (6.3 ppg).


Analysis: With the big three of Havlicek, Cowens and White at its peak, the quickest team in Celtic history had everything but great depth and great size.


There isn't much to choose from between these title teams, but the all-around clutch greatness of 1974 Finals MVP Havlicek makes the difference as star southpaw centers Cowens and Russell, each in their fourth season, negate each other.


Result: 1974 Celtics 4, 1960 Celtics 3


2008 Celtics (66-16, 16-10, Glenn Rivers, 100.5-90.3 ppg)

Starters: Kevin Garnett (18.8 ppg, 9.2 rpg)

Paul Pierce (19.6 ppg)

Kendrick Perkins (6.9 ppg, 6.1 rpg)

Ray Allen (17.4 ppg, 90.7 FT%, 39.7% 3's)

Rajon Rondo (10.6, 5.1 apg)

6th man: James Posey (7 ppg). Key reserves: Tony Allen (6.6 ppg), Eddie House (7.5 ppg), Sam Cassell (7.6 ppg), Leon Powe (7.9 ppg), Glen Davis (4.5 ppg).


vs.


1961 Celtics (57-22, 8-2, Red Auerbach, 119.7-114.1 ppg)

Starters:

B. Russell (16.9 ppg, 23.9 rpg)

T. Heinsohn (21.3 ppg, 9.9 rpg)

B. Cousy (18.1 ppg, 7.7 apg)

B. Sharman (16 ppg, 92.1 FT%)

G. Conley (6.3 ppg, 7.3 rpg)

6th man: F. Ramsey (15.1 ppg). Key reserves: S. Jones (15 ppg), KC Jones (7.6 ppg), Tom Sanders (5.3 ppg, 5.7 rpg)


Analysis: The 2008 Celtics boasted a deep bench and very strong defense, as did the '61 Celts. The biggest weakness on the '61 C's came at big forward, and Garnett would take advantage there. Russell held a similarly big edge at center, but the overall better athleticism of the 2008 Celtics makes the slight difference.


Result: 2008 Celtics 4, 1961 Celtics 3


1984 Celtics (62-20, 15-8, KC Jones, 112.1-105.6 ppg)

Starters:

L. Bird (24.2 ppg, 10.1 rpg, 6.6 apg, 88.8 FT%)

Cedric Maxwell (11.9 ppg, 5.8 rpg 53.2 FG%)

R. Parish (19 ppg, 10.7 rpg)

D. Johnson (13.2 ppg, 4.2 apg)

Gerald Henderson (11.6 ppg, 3.8 apg)

6th man: K. McHale (18.4 ppg, 7.4 rpg, 55.6 FG%). Key reserves: S. Wedman (4.8 ppg), D. Ainge (5.4 ppg), Quinn Buckner (4.1 ppg), ML Carr.


vs.


1964 Celtics (59-21, 8-2, Red Auerbach, 113-105.1 ppg)

Starters:

S. Jones (19.4 ppg)

T. Heinsohn (16.5 ppg)

B. Russell (15 ppg, 24.7 rpg)

T. Sanders (11.4 ppg)

KC Jones (8.2 ppg)

6th man: J. Havlicek (19.9 ppg). Key reserves: F. Ramsey (8.6 ppg), Willie Naulls (9.8 ppg).


Analysis: Both teams featured great front lines and sixth men, but regular season and Finals MVP Bird could not be matched. McHale and Maxwell also had the edge over Satch Sanders.


The '84 Celtics ran a brutal gauntlet to the title, beating the arch-rival Knicks and Lakers in seven grueling games each, and were a great offensive-rebounding squad - especially when they went with the big lineup of Bird essentially playing guard along with Parish, McHale, Maxwell and DJ.


The 1984 Celtics were incredibly driven after coming off two non-title seasons in the loaded NBA of the early 1980s, and they beat LA in perhaps the best championship series in league history by pounding the offensive glass.


Boston also willed its way to two overtime barnburner wins in the Finals and another seventh game epic victory at home to give Larry his long-awaited title over nemesis Earvin Johnson. They refused to lose and Maxwell was an underrated clutch performer at both ends.


Result: 1984 Celtics 4, 1964 Celtics 3



1976 Celtics (54-28, 12-6, Tom Heinsohn, 106.2-103.9 ppg)

Starters:

D. Cowens (19 ppg, 16 rpg, 4.2 apg)

P. Silas (10.7 ppg, 12.7 rpg)

J. Havlicek (17 ppg, 3.7 apg)

Charlie Scott (17.6 ppg, 4.2 apg)

JJ White (18.9 ppg, 5.4 apg)

6th man: D. Nelson (6.4 ppg). Key reserves: S. Kuberski (5.4 ppg), Kevin Stacom (5.3 ppg), Glenn McDonald (5.6 ppg).


vs.


1965 Celtics (62-18, 8-4, Red Auerbach, 112.8-104.4 ppg)

Starters:

S. Jones (25.9 ppg)

B. Russell (14.1 ppg, 24.1 rpg)

T. Heinsohn (13.6 ppg)

T. Sanders (11.8 ppg, 8.3 rpg)

KC Jones (8.3 ppg).

6th man: J. Havlicek (18.3 ppg). Key reserves: W. Naulls (10.5 ppg), Ron Bonham (7.4 ppg), Larry Siegfried (6.3 ppg).


Analysis: The slightly aging, short-benched '76 Celtics somewhat wheezed their way to the title behind Cowens, White and guile as a 36-year old Hondo was slowed by a foot injury. Boston struggled to beat a 42-40 Sun team in the Finals, led by ex-Celtic Paul Westphal, breaking the back of upstart Phoenix by outlasting them in the epic triple overtime game five at the Garden.


The '65 Celtics also featured a small forward in Heinsohn enduring the final season of his career at 31, but they made up for it with supersub Hondo leading a superior bench. Sam Jones had his greatest season stat-wise in 1965 and with Russell also near his peak, they nudge past a balanced, wily but depth-challenged bicentennial Celt squad. The uber-aggressive Cowens also was frequently in foul trouble and had no adequate backup.


Result: 1965 Celtics 4, 1976 Celtics 3


1968 Celtics (54-28, 12-7, Bill Russell, 116.1-112 ppg)

Starters:

S. Jones (21.3 ppg)

J. Havlicek (20.7 ppg)

B. Howell (19.8 ppg, 9.8 rpg)

B. Russell (12.5 ppg, 18.6 rpg)

L. Siegfried (12.2 ppg, 86.8 FT%)

6th man: T. Sanders (10.2 ppg).  Key reserves: D. Nelson (10 ppg), Wayne Embry (6.3 ppg).


vs.


1969 Celtics (48-34, 12-6, Bill Russell, 111-105.4 ppg)

Starters:

J. Havlicek (21.6 ppg, 7 rpg, 5.4 apg)

B. Howell (19.7 ppg, 8.8 rpg)

S. Jones (16.3 ppg)

L. Siegfried (14.2 ppg, 4.7 apg, 86.4 FT%)

B. Russell (9.9 ppg, 19.3 rpg)

6th man: D. Nelson (11.6 ppg). Key reserves: T. Sanders (11.2 ppg, 7 rpg), Em Bryant (5.7 ppg).


Analysis: The big difference between these back-to-back Boston champs was just another year in age. The 1969 Celts limped to the fourth and last spot of the East playoffs in the final campaign for Russell and Sam Jones.


Yet they found a way to come back from deficits of 0-2 and 2-3 to upset the favored Lakers on the road in a classic game seven (108-106) despite having one of the worst records ever for a championship team.


The 1968 Celtics came from 1-3 down to upset the defending champion 76ers in the East Finals, then took out LA in six. Russell averaged just 9.9 ppg in his last season of 1969, and thus the slightly younger Celtics edge the last Boston consecutive champs.


Result: 1968 Celtics 4, 1969 Celtics 3


1981 Celtics (62-20, 12-5, Bill Fitch, 109.9-104 ppg)

Starters:

L. Bird (21.2 ppg, 10.9 rpg, 5.5 apg)

C. Maxwell (15.2 ppg, 58.8 FG%)

R. Parish (18.9 ppg, 9.5 rpg)

Chris Ford (8.9 ppg)

Nate Archibald (13.8 ppg, 7.7 apg)

6th man: K. McHale 10 ppg). Key reserves: ML Carr (6 ppg), G. Henderson (7.8 ppg), Rick Robey (9 ppg).


vs.


1966 Celtics (54-26, 11-6, Red Auerbach, 112.7-107.8 ppg)

Starters:

S. Jones (23.5 ppg)

B. Russell (12.9 ppg, 22.8 rpg)

T. Sanders (12.6 ppg)

W. Naulls (10.7 ppg)

KC Jones (8.6 ppg, 6.3 apg)

6th man: J Havlicek (18.8 ppg). Key reserves: D. Nelson (10.2 ppg), Mel Counts (8.4 ppg, 6.4 rpg).


Analysis: The greatest frontline in NBA history was completed with the trade for Robert Parish and drafting of Kevin McHale (along with underrated 1981 Finals MVP Cedric Maxwell) joining second-year great Bird.


The pre-season retirement of injured but aging great Dave Cowens helped straighten out a logjam in an incredibly deep frontcourt that also included top reserve center Rick Robey.


Rookie McHale paced a strong bench and the penetration of Archibald led this fast-breaking Celtic team to a tough win over a strong but slightly aging Boston squad playing for Red Auerbach in his final season as coach.


The 1966 Celtics almost lost to Cincinnati, led by Oscar Robertson and Jerry Lucas, in the east semifinals before pulling out a comeback in the decisive fifth game, 3-2. Boston then blew by the 76ers 4-1, and edged the Lakers in a seven-game Finals to send Red out with an unprecedented eighth consecutive crown.


But it was clear the dynasty was starting to slide just a bit as the 54-26 record was the worst of the Celtic title teams to that point.


Meanwhile, the 1981 Celtics were younger and extremely hungry, especially along their great new frontline. The forward trio of Bird, Maxwell and McHale would dominate Sanders, Naulls, Nelson and young swingman Havlicek.


Result: 1981 Celtics 4, 1966 Celtics 3


QUARTERFINALS

1986 Celtics (67-15, 15-3, KC Jones, 114.1-104.7 ppg)

Starters:

L. Bird (25.8 ppg, 9.8 rpg, 6.8 apg, 89.6 FT%, 42.3% 3's)

K. McHale (21.3 ppg, 8.1 rpg, 57.4 FG%)

R. Parish (16.1 ppg, 9.5 rpg)

D. Ainge (10.7 ppg, 5.1 apg, 90.4 FT%)

D. Johnson (15.6 ppg, 5.8 apg)

6th man: B. Walton (7.6 ppg, 6.8 rpg). Key reserves: S. Wedman (8 ppg), J. Sichting (6.5 ppg, 92.4 FT%).


vs.


1981 Celtics (62-20, 12-5, Bill Fitch, 109.9-104 ppg)

Starters:

L. Bird (21.2 ppg, 10.9 rpg, 5.5 apg)

C. Maxwell (15.2 ppg, 58.8 FG%)

R. Parish (18.9 ppg, 9.5 rpg)

C. Ford (8.9 ppg)

N. Archibald (13.8 ppg, 7.7 apg)

6th man: K. McHale 10 ppg). Key reserves: ML Carr (6 ppg), G. Henderson (7.8 ppg), R. Robey (9 ppg).


Analysis: The '86 Celtics were improved over the '81 version by experience, a slightly better bench, the best forward tandem ever in Bird and McHale at their peak, and a superior backcourt of DJ and Ainge.


The 1981 backcourt of Chris Ford and Archibald was solid, but both were in their early 30s by 1981 and just past their peak, and thus were no match for the bigger and more athletic 1986 guards. Archibald was also a less than average defender, and too small to guard Johnson or Ainge.


Although Parish was a bit better in '81 than '86, Walton more than evened up that advantage - plus the Larry Bird and Kevin McHale versions in 1986 were also better than their 1981 selves, especially McHale.


Perhaps if Cowens and Pete Maravich had not retired in pre-season and if they had signed future European legend Nick Galis to improve the guard situation, the 1981 Celtics would rank much higher in the pantheon of Boston title teams. But they didn't.


Then again, the 1987 Celtics would probably have been the greatest team ever with a healthy Walton and Wedman, and the addition of super rookie Len Bias, who died after being drafted second overall.


Result: 1986 Celtics 4, 1981 Celtics 2


1963 Celtics (58-22, 8-5, Red Auerbach, 118.8-111.6 ppg)

Starters:

S. Jones (19.7 ppg, 5.2 rpg)

B. Cousy (13.2 ppg, 6.8 apg)

B. Russell (16.8 ppg, 23.6 rpg)

T. Heinsohn (18.9 ppg, 7.5 rpg)

T. Sanders (10.8 ppg, 7.2 rpg)

6th man: J. Havlicek (14.3 ppg, 6.7 rpg) . Key reserves: F. Ramsey (10.9 ppg), KC Jones (7.2 ppg), C. Lovellette (6.5 ppg).


vs.


1968 Celtics (54-28, 12-7, Bill Russell, 116.1-112 ppg)

Starters:

S. Jones (21.3 ppg)

J. Havlicek (20.7 ppg)

B. Howell (19.8 ppg, 9.8 rpg)

B. Russell (12.5 ppg, 18.6 rpg)

L. Siegfried (12.2 ppg, 86.8 FT%)

6th man: T. Sanders (10.2 ppg)Key reserves: D. Nelson (10 ppg, W. Embry (6.3 ppg).


Analysis: The 1963 Celtics possessed better guards, greater depth and more youth across the board, and those keys spelled the difference.


The '68 Celtics rallied from 3-1 down in the East finals to upset the defending champion 76ers, who were without injured star Billy Cunningham. Russell had clearly slowed down in his penultimate season, yet was still formidable. 
However, the 1963 Boston champs just had too much talent, depth and youth.


Result: 1963 Celtics 4, 1968 Celtics 2


1974 Celtics (56-26, 12-6, Tom Heinsohn, 109-105.1 ppg)

Starters:

D. Cowens (19 ppg, 15.7 rpg)

P. Silas (11.5 ppg, 11.2 rpg)

J. Havlicek (22.6 ppg, 6.4 rpg, 5.9 apg)

JJ White (18.1 ppg, 5.5 apg)

D. Chaney (10.4 ppg)

6th man: D. Nelson (11.5 ppg)Key reserves: P. Westphal (7.2 ppg), S. Kuberski (5.1 ppg).


vs.


1965 Celtics (62-18, 8-4, Red Auerbach, 112.8-104.4 ppg)

Starters:

S. Jones (25.9 ppg)

B. Russell (14.1 ppg, 24.1 rpg)

T. Heinsohn (13.6 ppg)

T. Sanders (11.8 ppg, 8.3 rpg)

KC Jones (8.3 ppg)

6th man: J. Havlicek (18.3 ppg)Key reserves: W. Naulls (10.5 ppg). R. Bonham (7.4 ppg), L. Siegfried (6.3 ppg).


Analysis: The 1974 Celtics were the quickest team in franchise annals, and boasted four all-defense performers as well as a balanced offense.


A very smart team, they also featured five future NBA head coaches (Nelson, Cowens, Silas, Westphal and Chaney) and one of the game's smartest players ever in the supremely athletic Havlicek.


Five past or future All-Stars dotted the roster and they took down a strong Bucks team in the Finals, winning game seven on the road as Cowens outplayed Jabbar and second-year man Westphal played a key role off the bench.


The talented Westphal scored 12 big points in place of foul-plagued defensive ace Chaney, and Paul helped harass all-time great Oscar Robertson into a 2-for-13 shooting night in his final NBA game.


The '65 Celtics also were very heady and featured four future NBA head coaches (Russell, Heinsohn, Sanders and KC). But a still-in-his-prime Havlicek clearly outplays the Heinsohn of his final season, Jo Jo White and Sam Jones negate one another as do Cowens and Russell, Silas and Sanders, and defensive guards Chaney and KC.


Hondo was determined to win his (and the franchise's) first title without Russell, and would not be denied in '74 - especially with the sting of losing in 1973 still a painful memory, literally and figuratively.


Despite posting the best-ever Celtic regular season mark at 68-14 in 1972-73 as Cowens was named league MVP, Boston came up just short in an epic seven-game East Finals to the eventual champion rival Knicks due to a severe shoulder injury suffered by Hondo in game three.


Thus Havlicek was not going to be denied in 1974. He and Cowens willed Boston to the title and a 4-3 win over the Bucks in one of the greatest championship series ever.


Result: 1974 Celtics 4, 1965 Celtics 3


1984 Celtics (62-20, 15-8, KC Jones, 112.1-105.6 ppg)

Starters:

L. Bird (24.2 ppg, 10.1 rpg, 6.6 apg, 88.8 FT%)

C. Maxwell (11.9 ppg, 5.8 rpg 53.2 FG%)

R. Parish (19 ppg, 10.7 rpg)

D. Johnson (13.2 ppg, 4.2 apg)

G. Henderson (11.6 ppg, 3.8 apg)

6th man: K. McHale (18.4 ppg, 7.4 rpg, 55.6 FG%). Key reserves: S. Wedman (4.8 ppg), D. Ainge (5.4 ppg), Q. Buckner (4.1 ppg), ML Carr.


vs.


2008 Celtics (66-16, 16-10, Glenn Rivers, 100.5-90.3 ppg)

Starters:

P. Pierce (19.6 ppg)

K. Garnett (18.8 ppg, 9.2 rpg)

K. Perkins (6.9 ppg, 6.1 rpg)

R. Allen (17.4 ppg, 90.7 FT%, 39.7% 3's)

R. Rondo (10.6, 5.1 apg)

6th man: J. Posey (7. ppg). Key reserves: T. Allen (6.6 ppg), E. House (7.5 ppg), S. Cassell (7.6 ppg), L. Powe (7.9 ppg), G. Davis (4.5 ppg).


Analysis: Superior shooting, halfcourt offense, passing and rebounding make the difference for the 1984 Celtics. DJ would clamp down on a one-dimensional Allen, Ainge and Henderson outplay a very young shooting-challenged Rondo, Parish dominates Perkins and Bird outplays Pierce, while Maxwell and McHale battle Garnett to at least a draw.


The 2008 Celtics struggled to get to the third round of the playoffs, winning their first two series in seven each time before finding their groove.


But nothing came easily for this team on offense. Poor shooting and a lack of offense from Rondo and Perkins would be easily exposed by a smart, good defensive team like the 1984 Celtics. Six of the players from that team made all-defense at some point, and Maxwell easily could have as well.


The 2008 squad would especially struggle to score against a tough defensive team like the '84 Celtics, who featured four strong defensive guards and a similarly tough frontcourt. The '84 Celtics were also a better rebounding team.


The 2008 Celtics were a very stingy defensive outfit, but their offensive deficiencies would spell defeat in a very close series. Their best all-around player (Pierce) simply could not match or approach the 1984-season and Finals MVP version of Bird in any facet of the game, other than perhaps individual defense.


Result: 1984 Celtics 4, 2008 Celtics 3


SEMIFINALS

1986 Celtics (67-15, 15-3, KC Jones, 114.1-104.7 ppg)

Starters:

L. Bird (25.8 ppg, 9.8 rpg, 6.8 apg, 89.6 FT%, 42.3% 3's)

K. McHale (21.3 ppg, 8.1 rpg, 57.4 FG%)

R. Parish (16.1 ppg, 9.5 rpg)

D. Ainge (10.7 ppg, 5.1 apg, 90.4 FT%)

D. Johnson (15.6 ppg, 5.8 apg)

6th man: B. Walton (7.6 ppg, 6.8 rpg)Key reserves: S. Wedman (8 ppg), J. Sichting (6.5 ppg, 92.4 FT%).


vs.


1984 Celtics (62-20, 15-8, KC Jones, 112.1-105.6 ppg)

Starters:

L. Bird (24.2 ppg, 10.1 rpg, 6.6 apg, 88.8 FT%)

C. Maxwell (11.9 ppg, 5.8 rpg 53.2 FG%)

R. Parish (19 ppg, 10.7 rpg)

D. Johnson (13.2 ppg, 4.2 apg)

G. Henderson (11.6 ppg, 3.8 apg)

6th man: K. McHale (18.4 ppg, 7.4 rpg, 55.6 FG%). Key reserves: S. Wedman (4.8 ppg), D. Ainge (5.4 ppg), Q. Buckner (4.1 ppg), ML Carr.


Analysis: Erratic shooting by the 1984 Celtic backcourt was the glaring weakness for this team, and the '86 squad would take advantage with better guard play.


Walton teamed with Parish in 1986 to give Boston perhaps the greatest one-two punch ever at center. And the forward duo of Bird and McHale was at its peak (buttressed by the underrated sniping of Scott Wedman off the bench too), and thus this team would not be beaten.


McHale had become a superstar by 1986, and even though Maxwell was a very underrated performer and key member of the 1984 champs, his peak level did not approach Kevin's.


Arguably the smartest team ever, they may have been the best passing Celtic team as well. Bird and Walton spurred this unselfishness as the two best passers ever at their positions, with the possible exception of Arvydas Sabonis at center over Walton. Ainge and Sichting were a big backcourt offensive upgrade over Henderson and Buckner while not giving up much on defense.


Result: 1986 Celtics 4, 1984 Celtics 2


1963 Celtics (58-22, 8-5, Red Auerbach, 118.8-111.6 ppg)

Starters:

S. Jones (19.7 ppg, 5.2 rpg)

B. Cousy (13.2 ppg, 6.8 apg)

B. Russell (16.8 ppg, 23.6 rpg)

T. Heinsohn (18.9 ppg, 7.5 rpg)

T. Sanders (10.8 ppg, 7.2 rpg)

6th man: J. Havlicek (14.3 ppg, 6.7 rpg) Key reserves: F. Ramsey (10.9 ppg), KC Jones (7.2 ppg), C. Lovellette (6.5 ppg).


vs.


1974 Celtics (56-26, 12-6, Tom Heinsohn, 109-105.1 ppg)

Starters:

D. Cowens (19 ppg, 15.7 rpg)

P. Silas (11.5 ppg, 11.2 rpg)

J. Havlicek (22.6 ppg, 6.4 rpg, 5.9 apg)

JJ White (18.1 ppg, 5.5 apg)

D. Chaney (10.4 ppg)

6th man: D. Nelson (11.5 ppg). Key reserves: P. Westphal (7.2 ppg), S. Kuberski (5.1 ppg).


Analysis: The superior depth of the 1963 Celtics is the biggest edge they have on the 1974 Boston champs, perhaps the most underrated of Boston's 17 title teams. This series ranks as perhaps the toughest to decide in the entire tournament.


The 1974/76 Boston title teams get lost sometimes between the Russell and Bird eras, but they were consistently great, making the East Finals five times in a row from 1972 through 1976 - the last team to make such a run. Only the Celtics of 1984-88 and the Pistons from 2002-08 have managed similar sustained consecutive runs since then, and Detroit's was managed in an extremely weak East and expansion-diluted era (plus the Pistons only won the East two of those times).


The Russell/Cousy-led 1963 team had more scorers and guys who could beat you. Don Chaney was a weak-shooting but clever and strong defensive guard opposing defenses could sag off of from the '74 squad.


The passing wizardry and creativity of Cousy, even in his final year, were unmatched in Boston until the 1980s and the arrival of Bird, with the possible brief interim exceptions of Pete Maravich and Ernie DiGregorio.


With his incredible intensity and unbridled aggression, Cowens had a tendency to get in foul trouble often, and the 1974 Celtics did not have a good replacement for him at center, or would be forced to go small perhaps with Silas at center and Nelson and Hondo at forwards.


If Dave was able to stay on the court and off the bench due to foul trouble, the 1974 Celtics would probably eke out the slimmest of wins. However, I think he would have a hard time doing this.


This would clearly cost them against the cagey and deep '63 Bostonians of Russell, Cousy and company. There isn't much difference between these juggernaut champions, but the depth and winning know-how of the '63 Celtics, who had captured their sixth crown in seven years, puts them over the top - barely.


Result: 1963 Celtics 4, 1974 Celtics 3



ALL-TIME CELTIC CHAMPIONS TOURNAMENT FINALS

1986 Celtics (67-15, 15-3, KC Jones, 114.1-104.7 ppg)

Starters:

L. Bird (25.8 ppg, 9.8 rpg, 6.8 apg, 89.6 FT%, 42.3% 3's)

K. McHale (21.3 ppg, 8.1 rpg, 57.4 FG%)

R. Parish (16.1 ppg, 9.5 rpg)

D. Ainge (10.7 ppg, 5.1 apg, 90.4 FT%)

D. Johnson (15.6 ppg, 5.8 apg)

6th man: B. Walton (7.6 ppg, 6.8 rpg). Key reserves: S. Wedman (8 ppg), J. Sichting (6.5 ppg, 92.4 FT%).


vs.


1963 Celtics (58-22, 8-5, Red Auerbach, 118.8-111.6 ppg)

Starters:

S. Jones (19.7 ppg, 5.2 rpg)

B. Cousy (13.2 ppg, 6.8 apg)

B. Russell (16.8 ppg, 23.6 rpg)

T. Heinsohn (18.9 ppg, 7.5 rpg)

T. Sanders (10.8 ppg, 7.2 rpg).

6th man: J. Havlicek (14.3 ppg, 6.7 rpg). Key reserves: F. Ramsey (10.9 ppg), KC Jones (7.2 ppg), C. Lovellette (6.5 ppg).


Analysis: The 1986 Celtics are very arguably the greatest team of all-time, boasting probably the best starting five in NBA annals.


Led by the greatest frontcourt ever headlined by third-time MVP Bird and McHale at their zenith, a strong bench led by Walton and Wedman, and a tall, very solid backcourt, this team just would not be beaten.


The 1985-86 Celtics were probably the smartest and best-passing Celtic team ever - which is saying A LOT given the litany of intelligent, unselfish passing Boston champion squads. This team more than made up for its lone weakness (lack of foot speed) by passing the ball exceptionally well and unselfishly, taking its cue from superstar Bird and the ever-enthusiastic Walton.


Because a well-thrown, crisp pass is still faster than anyone can run, neagting their lack of foot speed. Four of the five starters became NBA head coaches (along with reserve guards Rick Carlisle and Sam Vincent, while Sichting was a long-time assistant). Plus Bird, McHale and Ainge also enjoyed very successful GM tenures.


Walton was the difference. His infectious enthusiasm and energy picked up a team that was often grim due to the uber-serious natures of superstar leader Larry Bird, the stoicism of Parish and the intensity of DJ. His unselfish passing and team first style even got McHale and the Chief passing.


Not to mention his considerable talent as a rebounder, outlet passer, passer in general, scorer and tremendous shot-blocker. He was a great communciator on defense who contested everything as well. He is the only man on the NBA 50 Greatest list to be a season and playoff MVP yet come off the bench as a sixth man on a title team (Billy Cunningham came close in 1967, but never won an MVP award).


The 1986 team was also chock full of superb clutch players, led in that regard by Larry Legend and DJ. Featuring five Hall of Famers at or near their primes, a record three NBA Finals MVPs (Bird, Walton and DJ), an entire starting five of All-Stars, two bench All-Stars and a team determined to regain its lost title, this team romped through a NON-expansion diluted league to 67 wins.


This despite getting every opponent's best shot each night due in part to "green-is envy", and ended up just two wins short of the league mark at the time set by the 1972 Lakers.


If not for a few throwaway losses to the lowly Nets and Knicks, they would have won 70 and set the record, which would be much more impressive than the 72 the Bulls won 10 years later in a much weaker East - and an NBA severely diluted by six new expansion teams.


The 1986 Celtics went a ridiculous 40-1 at home in the season, and were a perfect 10-0 at the Garden in the playoffs, winning by an average of 17.1 ppg. Only one of the 10 playoff home games was less than a 12-point margin (the memorable double OT 135-131 game two win over the Bulls when Jordan scored 63).


In game five of the east semifinals, Boston lambasted and eliminated a good Atlanta team 132-99. In a memorable third period, perhaps the greatest ever by a Celtic team in the playoffs, Boston crushed the Hawks (a 50-win team) 36-6. 36-6!


McHale has said that whenever he wants to see basketball played at its perfect best, he just slips in a tape of that game to watch the incredible third quarter thrashing of Atlanta, which featured superstar Dominique Wilkins and future Celtic coach Doc Rivers.


The 1986 Celtics swept Milwaukee in the conference finals 4-0 by 15 ppg. Then they whipped Houston 4-2 in a 4-2 Finals that was not as close as the series score indicates. Boston cruised to victory in the first two lopsided games by an average of 17 points, lost a two-point game three on a controversial inadvertent whistle, then crushed Houston in a title-clinching game six they led by 28 at one point before calling the dogs off.


The 1963 Celtics were loaded too, but several of their Hall of Famers were at or nearing the end of their career - Cousy, Ramsey, Lovellette and Heinsohn - or at their very start, like rookie Hondo.


Sanders was somewhat offensively-challenged and no match inside for McHale, even with Satch's fine defensive skills, and Bird would clearly dominate an aging, smaller Heinsohn. DJ, possibly the best defensive guard ever, could menace Sam Jones, and Parish would not get embarrassed by Russell in the one position the 1963 Celts have an edge at.


The '63 Celts had great winning know-how and pedigree, but they were not big enough to handle the huge 1986 Celtic frontline of the 7-0 Parish, a long-armed 6-10 McHale, 6-9 Bird and 7-1 Walton, and probably not fast enough to take advantage of the only '86 Celtic weak point.


In 1963, Cousy sprained his ankle in the second half og game 6 of the Finals at Los Angeles, yet returned to help the Celtics pull out a 112-109 clincher in his swansong as Heinsohn made two clutch game-winning plays late.


However, the '63 Celts narrowly escaped an upset attempt by a 42-38 Cincinnati Royal squad in the Eastern finals 4-3, and this was only after trailing 2-1 in the series.


The '86 Celtics shot 50.8% from the field (2nd in the NBA) and 79.8 percent from the foul line (also 2nd), enjoyed a five-rebound advantage per game (1st in NBA), and blocked 6.5 shots a game (1st in NBA).


They outscored their opposition by a whopping margin of just under 10 points a game, and were the best halfcourt offensive team since the early 1970s Knicks, and better than anyone since. Six of their top seven players also made the all-defense first or second team at some point in their careers.


Those Larry-led Celtics rolled through the playoffs with a 15-3 mark, compared with an 8-5 post-season mark by the '63 C's, who were pushed to seven games in the eastern finals by Cincinnati.


The '63 Celt outfit outscored its opposition in an eight-team league by 7.2 ppg, shot 42.7% from the field and 72.4% from the foul line. Although they were great, they weren't as good shooting, defensively, passing, or rebounding as the champs that followed them 23 years later.


As great a winner as Russell was, he was not a good shooter (44% field goal and 56% career foul shooter), and his era Celtics only had to be better than seven or nine teams. Plus they only had to win two series often to capture a title. Only in the last three of his title runs (1966-68-69) did Boston have to win as many as three series to take the crown.


Over Russell's first eight championships, his teams only had to win two series and a total of eight games, except for 1957, when they only had to win seven contests over two series. In 1986, Boston had to win four series and 15 playoff games ot take the title.


Cousy never shot over 40 percent from the field in any season of his legendary career, and in 1963 had slowed down at nearly 35 in his last season. Havlicek was a fine rookie but not nearly the player he would later become. 
Ramsey, KC Jones and Lovellette were all effective but over 30 and DJ, the consummate backcourt defender, would be able to contain the sharpshooting Sam Jones.


The 1980's Celtics routinely had to battle through a loaded East past championship-caliber rivals Philadelphia, Milwaukee and Deroit just to get to the Finals.


In 1984 and '86 they had to win 15 grueling games over four series to earn the title in a league with three times as many teams as most of the Russell-era clubs.


With Bird at the height of his all-around powers during his third straight MVP regular season (and second Finals MVP) over that unmatched 1984-86 span, Larry would lead a deep, massively talented squad of skilled and smart, highly-determined players that took on his great intangibles to form a club the likes of which the league has never seen, before or since.


Result: 1986 Celtics 4, 1963 Celtics 3


Third-place consolation series: 1974 Celtics 4, 1984 Celtics 3


CELTIC FRANCHISE TOURNAMENT OF CHAMPIONS ALL-TOURNEY 1ST TEAM

C-Bill Russell

F-Larry Bird

F-John Havlicek

G-Dennis Johnson

G-Bob Cousy

6th man-Dave Cowens


ALL-TOURNAMENT 2nd TEAM

C-Robert Parish

F-Kevin McHale

F-Tom Heinsohn

G-Sam Jones

G-Jo Jo White

6th man-Bill Sharman


Tournament MVP-Larry Bird


If you wish to contact the author directly, you can email Cort Reynolds at cdrada2433@yahoo.com.