Somebody should have cried about the way the Celtics blew a five-point lead in the last 59 seconds to lose to the Nuggets 109-106. Havlicek was stripped of the ball by David Thompson and had an Alley Oop pass to Cowens deflected by Dan Issel, both in the last minute.
The fact that the once proud and machinelike Celtics had to resort to such a gimmick maneuver in a crisis was evidence enough how far the-team has fallen, but that was just a synopsis of the entire season. The Boston T party (T for Treason) continued unabated Friday night back home when San Antonio wiped out a 17-point deficit to beat the Celtics 120-117 after George Gervin blocked Havlicek's game-tying attempt with 31 seconds left. And then on Sunday, the final ignominy: Boston lost to Indiana 123-120, and was thereby eliminated from the playoffs for the first time since 1971.
Maybe it was just as well that the locals were now relieved of worrying about such mundane matters as the playoffs and could gird themselves for " John Havlicek Weekend."
Cowens was asked if he felt sentimental. "I don't think it's sentiment," he said. "The way I figure, John's never had a definite profile like Bill Russell or Cousy. He's played all these games without being recognized, and now everybody is apologizing for it. You tell me how many class guys there are like him anywhere. They ought to retire his number from the whole NBA. Just take 17 and stash it up there in lights."
Havlicek had two away games left—a quickie trip to Chicago and one to Providence—before coming home to close out the season. He had received his praise and prizes everywhere else with casual grace and practiced coolness. Surely. Boston would be different: three games of celebration, two nights and a final afternoon of melancholy and Auld Lang Syne. How could even this bravest of runners outrun his feelings?
"I'm not thinking about it," Havlicek said. "I want this thing to be upbeat, positive, unemotional. I have soft spots, but I don't think they'll come out on Sunday."
Nonetheless, a precedent had been set. Several weeks ago the Havlicek family sat at home watching a TV special in which the man of the house was all over the screen doing wonderful things with the basketball, the song Nobody Does It Better was on the soundtrack and a voice was saying that all of this would come to an end on April 9.
Beth Havlicek had already started to shake when 7-year-old Chris could take it no longer and ran upstairs weeping. When John reached the boy, Chris had all the pictures of his old man and himself in their Celtic uniforms spread out on the bedroom floor. "Chris just cried and cried," said his father. "I was really touched."
This weekend in Boston there will be a few more tears, and No. 17 will be touched again. What that means, John Havlicek, is that you have had a fabulous sunset.