Much has been said about Boston's strong reserves, and certainly the likes of Sam Jones, Gene Conley and K. C. Jones are a reassuring sight on the bench. But the fact is that Boston will not win the playoffs unless the regulars—Heinsohn, Cousy, Russell, Sharman and Ramsey—are at their peak throughout most of every game. No one can get the ball for this team like Russell. (He set a new rebound record, 51, two weeks ago.) No one organizes an offense like Cousy. (He is leading the league by more than 200 assists.) No one shoots the clutch baskets like Sharman. No one slips away from his defensive man so easily and makes so many in-the-clear layups as Ramsey. All together, this is an unbeatable combination over a 75-game season.
But the team balance is delicate. There is enough of every ingredient, but for one special job—rebounding—there is only Bill Russell, and for playmaking there is only Bob Cousy. In a short playoff, one sprained ankle can throw the Celtics out of kilter. Just such an injury—to Russell two years ago—caused Boston to lose in the playoff to St. Louis. Few outsiders knew it but at the same time that Russell was hobbling around on one leg, Cousy had a bad bone bruise on his right foot. If they are injured again, the Celtics won't be saved by all the flu serum in the world.
Barring such accidents, Boston should again face St. Louis for the world championship. Anticipating this, Ben Kerner, the Hawks' shrewd horse trader, has been making deals aimed at taking advantage of the Celtics' one slight weakness, in the corner opposite Heinsohn. Through trades, Kerner has added Larry Foust and Dave Piontek to his already strong front line of Pettit, Hagan and Lovellette. Foust, especially, will help in spots, but the Hawks' regulars will have to carry the main burden, and the feeling here is that Boston is still the better team. If the Celtics get by the Eastern playoffs, they will repeat as champions.