Game time: Celtics 90, Magic 80This game proved the truth of the old maxim, Good defense beats good offense. And that's precisely how and why the Celtics had such a relatively easy time besting the Magic.
Here are the particulars:
Defense on Dwight Howard
Either Kendrick Perkins or Glen Davis took on Howard on a strictly one-on-one basis. They banged him, pushed him, boxed him out and challenged his every shot. Davis in particular has a much lower center-of-gravity and was therefore able to get underneath Howard and root him off his favorite spots. And when Howard did manage to drive closer to the hoop, the Celtics converged on him and made him shoot through a gang of aggressive bodies, elbows, arms and hands.
Best of all, he was extremely coachable.
After Freddie Cofield opted to play in Europe, Dominick Pressley was the point guard. By this time, Dom was a reliable 3-point shooter and an excellent decision-maker. However, by the end of the season his knees were afflicted with severe tendonitis so much so that, on a bad day, he noticeably limped through ballgames. Still, even at limp-speed he was quick enough to leave opponents in the dust.
A couple of bench players were also noteworthy. Jose Slaughter, an NBA veteran who could play lock-down defense and routinely knock down long-range bombs. Brent Carmichael, a pesky ballhawk who backed up Pressley. Mike Richmond, a lefty jump shooter and rebounder who played behind Bannister. Two days before the playoffs began, David Wood, a future NBA fixture, had also gone to Europe.
Everybody got along like brothers. The long bus rides were extended celebrations of laughs, good-natured teasings and fondly remembered players, coaches and games. Pressley's dramatic renderings of his numerous and harrowing sexual escapades were particularly hilarious. "I always take off my shoes last and then put them on first, in case the husband gets back early and I need to make a quick getaway."
They partied hard and played hard, and I never had to institute any kind of curfew. CBA teams spend so much time together on long bus rides, waiting in airports, eating in the same restaurants that the close relationship that can develop between all members of the traveling party is unique. This is in dramatic contrast to NBA teams where everybody moves in their own spheres of influence.
So we were mutually respectful, supportive, there were no cliques on the team, and we thoroughly enjoyed each other's company.
Then there was Jim Lampley, whose NBA career consisted of a single game with the Sixers (1987). At 6-11, he was a legitimate CBA All-Star, who could shoot, score inside, rebound, pass, defend and play with consummate intelligence. The problem with Lamp, and what prevented him from being a successful NBA player, was that he was too gentle a soul which most often manifested in his being much too passive.
It seems that Lamp broke a bone in his shooting hand late in the season, but while he was mending he did nothing to keep himself in shape. No running. No exercising. No attendance at team practices. And a complete avoidance of the regularly scheduled rehab appointments the team had set up.
When the soft cast was removed from his hand, Lamp simply showed up at practice one day and announced that he was not only ready to play, but also ready to reclaim his starting spot from Bannister. Never mind that Lamp's legs were jelly. That his timing was atrocious, that he'd gained at least 10 pounds, or that Bannister was a better player. When I explained to Lamp that he'd have to work his way back into meaningful playing time, he was personally affronted.
In any case, we opened the playoffs by losing two games on the road to Mauro Panaggio's Quad-Cities Thunder. Then, after falling behind by 18 at halftime in Rockford, I delivered a blistering, insulting oration and we won the next four games to cop the series.
Next up was the Rapid City Thrillers, under the direction of Flip Saunders, and featuring a host of NBA veterans Todd Mitchell, Milt Wagner, David Henderson, Connor Henry, Chris Engler, Sidney Lowe, Kevin Williams and Jim Thomas. We lost the first game, 116-115, and immediately thereafter Bannister was signed to a 10-day contract by the L.A. Clippers. The outlook was dim.
But with Pressley (whose limp was getting even worse), Mannion and McClain stepping up their games, and with Lampley getting Bannister's minutes, we managed to upset the Thrillers in six games. Ah, the virtues of togetherness!
That set up the championship series Rockford versus the Tulsa Fast Breakers, who were coached by the redoubtable Henry Bibby.
The ensuing series would prove to be the most dramatic, most bizarre sequence of games I'd ever seen.
TO BE CONTINUED...