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But all this was behind them last week, and what Boston did to San Antonio in their warmup mini-series—best two out of three—was what the Celtics have been doing for centuries: collect their egos, run the break, set their patterns, play aggressive defense and absolutely pound the Spurs into dust on the backboards.
"Maybe the team personality is different, but they look the same to me," said an old Celtic named Bob Cousy. "The fundamental stuff is there for the Celtics to be the most consistent team in the playoffs. If Cowens gets back his intensity on offense, they're going to sneak in again."
It is clear from his expressions and on-court attitude that Cowens has regained sufficient intensity since he returned to the team on his own terms. Yet, other things still are as important to him as basketball. A hack license, for example. The night after the Celtics' opening playoff victory in Boston, Cowens was seen driving taxicab No. 352 near Chinatown by a Boston Globe reporter, who flagged a ride and figured on a sure scoop. Only Cowens later left a note at a bar for a friend from the rival Boston Herald . "I think this story stinks, but handle it the way you want," he wrote. "P.S. I had six fares and made good tips."
Though San Antonio is a psychedelic outfit that lives on stretches of unconscious shooting, the Celtics had handled the Spurs 4-0 during the season by intimidating them with Cowens and Wicks, and they did more of the same last week. Perhaps playoff pressure and Celtic mystique are not merely catch-phrase rhetoric in the coaches' garden of verses after all, inasmuch as two statistics stood out.
Boston, which led the NBA in rebounding, beat the Spurs off the glass 72-50 and 58-50. San Antonio, which led the league in free-throw shooting percentage, made only 14 of 23 and 25 of 39, some 16 percentage points below the team average. "Mystique?" said Spur Guard George Karl as he walked into Boston Garden Tuesday night. "Sure there is. I'm a trivia guy and I always wonder whose uniform numbers those are hanging from the rafters."
Just then Havlicek walked up. "John, do you know all those numbers?" Karl asked.
"Know them?" said Havlicek. "I played with most of them."
The two games were much like the conversation, the Celtics parrying everything the Spurs had to offer—even what looked like an honest San Antonio effort to play defense in the opener. This came to naught when Scott and the remarkable playoff shooter, Jo Jo White, broke loose in the fourth quarter to combine for 25 points while the San Antonio star, 6'7" Guard George (Ice) Gervin, got deeper into foul trouble by committing charging fouls.
"When Ice gets mad, he charges," moaned Moe afterward. "I can see it coming." When Ice gets mad, he turns to slush, too. Gervin missed 12 of 21 shots.
Ultimately, San Antonio lost the offensive boards 21-13, mostly because Larry (Special K) Kenon and Mark Olberding did not block out Rowe and Wicks.