For K.C, as for Sam, the running paid off. "I began to notice," says Auerbach, "that when they were in the game we never lost any ground. Meanwhile, Cousy and Sharman were resting." Now, adds Auerbach, there is no feeling on the Celtics, or in the NBA, that when he puts in the Jones boys he is putting in substitutes; there are few teams on which they would not be first-string.
Auerbach's opinion is supported by statistics. Sam, who is primarily a shooter, would average 18 to 20 points a game if he played regularly (something accomplished last season by only four NBA guards, Cousy and Sharman among them), and K.C., who is primarily a passer, would collect 350 or more assists (something achieved by only six NBA playmakers, led by Cousy).
A patented press
On entering a game, K.C. and Sam usually press the man who brings the ball up. "We hound him all the way," K.C. says, "trying to make him lose it." For the most part, this tactic only works against a man who brings the ball up slowly. "It's easier to block his lanes," explains K.C. "The whole idea is to make him stop." At the very least, such a press makes the opposition waste valuable time. As many as eight or nine seconds may elapse before it gets the ball across half-court (a team is allowed 24 seconds in which to shoot) and, as a result, it may be forced to hurry its shot. "We keep our hands up, too," says Sam, "not out, sideways, but up. It keeps them from passing over us." If a man takes advantage of the close guarding to slip past them, the Jones boys get help. Nine times out of 10, the towering Russell is there to slap the ball away from anyone trying a layup.
Auerbach does not always play the Jones boys together. Sam, for instance, is playing more and more with Cousy. ( Sharman has been out of the lineup with a recurring leg injury a good part of the season.) Sam has the lithe, limber body of a sprinter ("he has two speeds," says a teammate, "fast and real fast"), and frequently he is able to pull away from his man on fast breaks. Cousy leads him with long, graceful passes. When the opposition has a 7-foot center near the basket, however, Sam takes no chances of a layup being blocked. He stops short near the sideline, banks a shot off the backboard from 20 feet away. "Too late!" he yells as he gets the ball away before the 7-footer can deflect it. Sam is one of the few professionals ( Gene Shue is another) who expertly use the backboards on medium-range shots; the fashion today is to aim for the front rim of the basket.
Similarly, K.C. teams up well with the sharpshooting Sharman. Chunky and tireless, K.C. jack-rabbits his way around the court, blocking for teammates and diving for loose balls. "If you want assists," he says, "just pass the ball to Sharman. He makes a shot from 30 feet out look easy."
Off the court, the Jones boys fit smoothly into the Celtics' extracurricular activity. Sam is the team's best cardplayer, no small achievement among professional athletes, who traditionally while away the long hours of traveling with games that range from bridge to blackjack. Sam is so good, in fact, that he often has trouble getting into a card game. ("I got 'em all," he exults, meaning he has taken every card. "My God," someone groans, "he's done it again.") For a time Auerbach stayed out of the games, putting his money, instead, on Sam. Both men prospered so mightily under this arrangement that the other players soon prohibited it.
Part of the team
K.C. keeps the team entertained. One time he may lead the Celtics in whistling "Whoops! There goes another rubber tree plant!," a tune that takes on added significance because Russell is the proud part owner of a rubber plantation in Liberia. ("Those trees are really growing," Russell says loftily.) Another time K.C. may convulse them all by mimicking Cousy's languid walk or Russell's haughty stare. Auerbach revels in these exchanges. "That's the way a team has to be," he says. "You've got to be a part of it all the way."
As the Celtics clinched their fifth consecutive division title last week, Sam and K.C. Jones were very much a part of it. Nobody knows this better than their teammates. In a game in which the Celtics were ahead by 16 points K.C. took a headfirst dive to save a ball going out of bounds; Russell scooped it up and started the fast break; Sam took his favorite jump shot, ended up on the seat of his pants, and the Celtics were ahead by 18. From the bench, Bob Cousy leaned forward and applauded.