In Game 6, Ainge again appears to have an uncontested second-quarter layup. But here comes Detroit's 6'11" jack-in-the-box, John Salley, into the picture. Swat! He knocks Ainge's shot aside. Salley ended up blocking four other shots in the game.
The Celtics have no one to do those kinds of things, those unexpected, game-turning, intimidating things. And neither Salley nor Rodman is a starter.
After the Game 6 defeat, thoughts of mortality crept into Celtic conversations for the first time. "I see no reason we won't have the same starting five next season," said Ainge, "but I'll tell you, we won't be averaging 40 minutes again." Ainge, the youngest Celtic starter, will be 30 by the end of next season, and in his seven-year career he has played in 511 regular-season and 112 playoff games, giving up his body in many of them, as he did in the Piston series. But against the Pistons he shot just .314 (22 of 70) from the floor and connected on just 8 of 24 three-point attempts.
McHale, 30, was the steadiest Celtic in the series. His .563 accuracy from the field was the main reason Boston's shooting (.411) was not completely disgraceful. But the nonstop slam dance he engaged in with any number of Pistons around the basket left him exhausted. "I think you'll see a lot more of the young guys next year," said McHale, who would seem to be the most marketable Celtic—assuming Bird is untouchable—should Boston decide to make an off-season trade for draft choices or younger players. "We're not capable of playing 48 minutes anymore," said McHale.
Then there was Bird, feet immersed in ice, towel draped over his tired legs, trying to make sense of it all—his cold shooting, his team's inability to penetrate Detroit's frenetic defense, the sting of failing for the second straight year to win the championship, which, he says, is "the only thing I play for." Bird was certain of one thing, though. "Our team needs some help, no doubt about it," he said. "Playing 48 minutes is fun, but it's not going to get it done next year."
Boston president Red Auerbach, whose hands have molded Celtic fortunes for four decades, was more sanguine when asked whether the Celtics' lack of depth was the key factor in the series. "Right now the thing is not to panic," said Auerbach. "What, are you going to change your whole theory because of one loss? What if we had won this game and the series? Would everything be O.K. then?
"Hey, other clubs play only seven men. The Lakers play seven. I used to play six, seven guys. Maybe our bench would've played more this season if it wasn't so young. These kids have to sit and learn, just like K.C. Jones and Sam Jones had to sit for me. That's the way we do it. Anyway, it's not like we weren't in this game. If [James] Edwards [who had 15 points] and Vinnie Johnson [who scored a team-high 24] aren't hitting, it's a different game."
But those examples, Red, only underscore the necessity of depth. Neither Johnson, a fireplug shooting guard, nor Edwards, a 7'1" center acquired from Phoenix on Feb. 24 specifically for his offensive capabilities, is a starter. Factor in Salley, Rodman and the starting five, and the Pistons boast a nine-deep rotation. It is a stretch to credit the Celtics with anything better than a six-deep rotation. Six deep in today's NBA and you're deep-sixed.
Robbed of part of its future by the death of first-round draft choice Len Bias in June 1986, Boston may either have to swing a major trade or make a move in the free-agent market to keep pace with Detroit and Atlanta. At the very least the Celtics must bolster their bench. The consensus is that little-used swingman Reggie Lewis is a keeper. He can run the floor and jump. And 7-foot Brad Lohaus will probably be around next season, too.
The failure to develop a bench was the one constant criticism of K.C. Jones, as decent and honorable a man who ever strode a sideline. McHale was asked after Game 6 what he'll miss most about Jones. "K.C. himself." replied McHale. "All of him." In five seasons Jones coached Boston to five Atlantic Division titles and two championships.