As we prepare for the playoffs that will start this weekend, I have been thinking back to the 1980's Celtics teams and the playoff battles from back then. The thing that stands out most in my mind about those teams was their swagger. Defense was important and no one got anything easy. Part of that swagger came from winning, but anther part came from just being the Celtics. They had the attitude that they were the Celtics and they won because of the swagger, not the other way around.
I was thinking back to the 1984 finals between the Celtics and the Lakers. Larry Bird wasn't happy with his teammates. He called them out saying that they had played like a bunch of sissies. In the game after this pronouncement from Bird, the two teams locked in a classic battle. It was literally 48 minutes plus overtime of a basketbrawl. Kareem attempted to take Larry's head off his shoulder with an elbow. James Worthy hammered Cedric Maxwell into the basket support and Rambis and Carr were at each others throats over and over. The most memorable of these run ins was Kevin McHale's clothesline of Kurt Rambis. Laker fans still hate McHale and talk about it to this day. This play and this game changed the whole complexion of that playoff series. A little intimidation goes a long way.
I remember one incident from the classic 7 game Detroit/Boston playoff series in 1987. In game 4 of this series, the Evil Bill Laimbeer jerked Larry Bird to the floor by the neck. Bird reacted with some good punches and a bench clearing brawl ensued. After the tangle of bodies was straightened out, Bird and Laimbeer were both ejected. It was at this point that Larry fired the ball point blank at Laimbeer's face so hard that it had to have left an imprint of the logo on his face. Later, hearing that Laimbeer claimed he was just trying to go for the ball, Larry replied that he was just giving it to him.
In game 5 of that same series, Robert Parish, who was generally even tempered and very hard to rattle, got very tired of all of the elbows and abuse he was getting from Laimbeer and he sucker punched him. No foul was called and he wasn't thrown out of the game for it but was later suspended one game. Since he was nursing a mildly sprained ankle at the time and probably wouldn't have played in that game anyway, it wasn't all that bad of a punishment. Most fans in the league at that time felt that he did a very good deed since Laimbeer was well known for his dirty play.
There are no two players who are as professional and as classy as Larry Bird and Doctor J. But in 1984, frustration set in and with his team losing, Doctor J punched Larry Bird. Larry then went for Dr J's throat giving us the classic photo above that will forever live in infamy.
Ok, enough of the reminiscing. That was then and this is now and that swagger and Celtics Pride are back in Boston. While I don't expect the Celtics to come out fighting, I don't expect them to back down from anyone or take anything from anyone either. Just like the Celtics of the 80's before them, these Celtics don't back down from anyone. This year's Celtics have that tough defense that says "Not on my watch" and teams know that these Celtics won't back down and that we are a force to reckon with. It starts and ends with defense and players back each other up. The attitude and swagger starts with KG's intensity and Perk's no layups motto and goes all the way to Rondo who takes the ball hard at Jason Maxiell for a dunk without an ounce of hesitation or who squares up against Raefer Alston to show that he won't be pushed around, and to Leon Powe who leads the team in tough plays of the night. I don't know about you, but I can't wait for the playoffs. The swagger and the Celtic pride are back and we are in for a fun time ahead.
One of the Bird-Erving tussles was preceded by Bird taunting Dr. J with a 41-9 chant. Bird had 41 points, Erving 9.
Speaking of Philly:
The Celtics and a hated rival in a free-for-all with Red Auerbach in the middle, taunting the enemy's big man by taking off his glasses and saying, "Go ahead, hit me you big SOB."
Oh, the fires still burn deep and white hot . . . do they ever.
Sixty-five years old, at an age when the only battle in life could be with his Social Security check, and there's the Redhead padding across the Garden floor, walking right up to Moses himself, all 6 feet 10 of him.
Head to head, man to man, curse to curse, the calendar and the difference in reach be damned.
Exhibition game? It makes no difference, Auerbach explains, because "they come out there with their starting lineup and they think they're going to bury us." It was an exhibition game, certainly, but it was a game against the Sixers and there are no exhibition games against the Sixers.
"First, they knock Maxwell down," Auerbach goes on, "and then that other guy (Marc Iavaroni) is doing a job on Bird and all that kind of stuff is going on. I couldn't help it; I just got mad."
Auerbach, for his part, was ticketed for $2500 by league vice president of operations Scotty Stirling. "I'm going to appeal," said Auerbach. "I tried to get Stirling on the phone all day. He was ducking me. That bothers me because the Celtics pay as much of his salary as any other team does."
Also fined were Boston's Larry Bird ($2000) and Gerald Henderson ($500), and Marc Iavaroni of Philadelphia ($1000).
"They don't fine (Moses) Malone anything, and he starts the whole thing," said Auerbach. "Philly instigated everything that happened Sunday night and they get away with it. All the league office saw was the retaliation."