Typically, John Havlicek (see cover) was alone in the locker room long after his teammates had dispersed, precisely knotting his dark tie and carefully adjusting the jacket of his gray pinstriped suit. The captain of the Boston Celtics is nothing if not methodical, right down to the symmetrical pieces into which he cuts his pregame steaks. He demands a similar precision of himself and his teammates on the basketball floor, and because he does, his squiggly Charles Schulz mouth was pursed with earnestness when he said last Saturday night, "See, it's just like I thought. We're not all that good." Havlicek made that judgment after a Boston loss, but even so it seemed a mite harsh. The defeat, 118-107 to the Kansas City-Omaha Kings, was the Celts' first of the season, following 10 wins—the third-fastest getaway in Boston's history, and it is a history full of quick starts and quicker finishes.
The Celtics needed that streak to stay ahead of New York—which won 10 of its first 12—in what promises to be a rousing Atlantic Division race. But for Boston fans, who are turning out at the near-record rate of 10,427 per game, the team seems to promise even more. The sign hanging from the upper deck in the Boston Garden last week—THE CELTS AUER-BACH—was giving out old news. The post- Bill Russell Celtics have been a good team for two seasons, and last year they won their division title.
Now, after a month of play, the Celts must be included—along with the Knicks, Lakers, Warriors, Bucks and perhaps Bulls—among the group of teams from which the league champion will come. Boston has all the ingredients it needs. 1) The superstar. With all his old cronies from that championship season of '64-'65 except Satch Sanders off coaching, sportscasting or running chicken farms, Havlicek has become the highest-paid, highest-scoring Celtic ever. He has unobtrusively grown from the fast, young defensive substitute into about the best player in the team's history—aside from Russell. The only thing likely to slow him up is his permanently sore wrist, a product of the hundreds of thousands of times he has ever so deftly snapped it as he released his one-handed shot. 2) The balance. In 12 of Russell's 13 years at Boston no Celtic finished among the top five scorers. The same is true so far this season. And the Celts are second in the NBA in assists and first in rebounds even though none of their playmakers rank among the assist leaders and Center Dave Cowens stands fourth in rebounding. 3) The extra something. Paul Silas.
Paul who? Silas is the former Phoenix fatman whom the Celtics believe will do for them those same gutty things that Dave DeBusschere did for the Knicks in their championship season. A 6'7" forward, Silas neatly complements Havlicek. When John shoots, Paul rebounds. When Havlicek masterfully guards small cornermen, Silas leans all over bigger ones. When John runs, so does Paul. While Havlicek is a quiet, gentlemanly sort, Silas is a cordial, beaming man who could teach smiling at a stewardess school. And while Havlicek is exacting of himself and his teammates, Silas may be doubly so. Perhaps nothing tells more about Silas than the way he transformed himself during the summer of 1971. In his first seven pro seasons with the Hawks and Suns, Silas was a mountainous 235-pounder noted for strong, aggressive rebounding and defending near the basket. Then over that summer he dropped 30 pounds, so altering his appearance that some opposing players did not recognize him when he showed up for exhibition games last year. They also found his game unrecognizable. Silas was a faster runner, a better offensive rebounder, a more versatile defender and a far better scorer.
"One of the most unusual things about Silas is his desire for improvement," says a Phoenix sportswriter. "It's unusual for someone in his 28th year to improve so markedly. Part of it was the weight loss. He didn't diet because he had a problem but because of his desire to be a better player. He already had it made and could have just continued the way he was and cooled it. The thing that hurt the Suns most when he was traded to Boston was not simply the loss of his playing ability, but the loss of his leadership. He has no patience with those who won't put out."
"When I came into the league the thing was to have big, strong guys up front," says Silas. "But slowly that began to change. Teams began going for smaller, quicker guys and I felt to remain effective I had to change with the trend. My wife was going to Weight Watchers and I joined her. She lost 40 pounds and I lost about 30. I got to the point where I was too light and I've put a few back on, so I weigh between 210 and 215. I may have lost a little strength under the defensive boards—I get pushed out of the play once in a while now—but otherwise I feel better physically, mentally and psychologically. Even my shot improved because I can jump better, can maneuver better and have much better control of my body."
Slender Silas made the Western All-Star team, was named the Suns' MVP and caught the eye of Celtic President Red Auerbach. Late last season Phoenix filched Charlie Scott from the ABA, but to complete the deal the Suns had to pay off Boston, which held the NBA rights to him. Auerbach, already rich in guards with young Jo Jo White and Don Chaney, fast Artie (Hambone) Williams and swingman Havlicek, demanded Silas and got him—at Red's price. The agreement reached with Phoenix stipulated that the Suns would deliver Silas complete with a fresh contract. Auerbach set a maximum price, and if the Suns signed Silas for more than that amount either Phoenix would pay the difference or Scott would not play there. Silas coolly negotiated a four-year, no-cut, no-trade, no-nonsense contract similar to Havlicek's new one, except that John's $200,000 annual salary is somewhat higher. Silas' salary is also a bit more than Auerbach's maximum, so Phoenix is paying part of the freight.
"The only deal we could have made that would have strengthened us more than getting Silas would have been if we could have gotten a 7'2" center," says Boston Coach Tommy Heinsohn, who likes his new man so much he doesn't start him. "It's a Celtic tradition. The second-best forward has always been our sixth man. It gives you something extra to go with, another speed to shift to. We're a small team and we have to win with speed and pressure. We have to keep coming at people. It's a sledge-hammer approach."
Heinsohn has been pounding opponents every which way. He regularly uses 10 players a game while most teams use eight or nine, and in the Celts' 10th straight win, 109-96 over Baltimore last Friday, night, he made 23 substitutions, often sending in two or three fresh players at a time. Even the rule changes seem to be going in Boston's favor this year. Except in the case of two-shot fouls, free throws are no longer awarded on the first four fouls committed by each team in a quarter. The modification has cut back scoring slightly and rid the NBA of "give-up" fouls. It has also speeded up the game and taken away the breathers players enjoyed every time a free throw was being shot. The lack of rest periods works to the advantage of deep, quick teams such as the Celtics.
And there are no teams deeper or quicker than Boston. Its fast break is the most diverse in memory, largely because Cowens is a hard-running big man who frequently pulls down a rebound at one end of the floor and sprints to the other end to take a pass and score. He put in eight points on that sort of play against the Bullets as the Celts opened a 24-point lead in the third quarter. After Baltimore scrambled back, the Celtics scored 11 consecutive points in the final 2:21 to win the game.