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GREEN GHOSTS
Leigh Montville
June 25, 2008
NO TEAM HAD IT BETTER AT HOME THAN THE CELTICS DID IN BOSTON GARDEN
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June 25, 2008

Green Ghosts

NO TEAM HAD IT BETTER AT HOME THAN THE CELTICS DID IN BOSTON GARDEN

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Memory.

The building was filled with characters. Howie McHugh ( Celtics 1946-83), the publicity man with the restrained look of a parish priest, sat on a folding chair at the edge of the parquet floor, center court, and quietly pronounced a string of the most vile curses imaginable on all referees. John Kiley ( Celtics '46-84), the organist, the one man who could make Eleanor Rigby sound no different from The Stars and Stripes Forever, hated basketball. He played with his back to the action and never cared what happened. He quit one day when his parking pass was revoked. The members of the bull gang—responsible for putting the court over the ice surface—were characters. The ball boys. The original owner, Brown, the founder of the team, was seen as a lovable plantation owner but was followed after his death by a string of venture capitalists and eccentrics, all the way to the present owner, who was given the team by his father and is known in the local newspapers as Paul (Thanks, Dad) Gaston. Characters. Buddy LeRoux, the trainer for eight early championship teams, parlayed his playoff shares into a string of investments that included hospitals, apartment houses, hotels and substantial pieces of the Boston Red Sox and Suffolk Downs racetrack.

Memory.

The greatest game in NBA history was played in the building. The only problem is picking the game. The general choice is the Celtics' 128-126 triple-overtime victory over the Phoenix Suns in the fifth game of the Finals, on June 4, 1976. The highlight was a 22-foot heave by the Suns' Garfield Heard to tie the score at 112 at the end of the second overtime. Havlicek had scored on a running bank shot to give Boston a one-point lead with one second remaining. Phoenix's Paul Westphal ( Celtics '72-75) called timeout, even though the Suns did not have any timeouts left. This gave the Celtics a technical foul shot, which JoJo White ( Celtics '69-79) converted but which also allowed the Suns the chance to throw the ball inbounds from center court, which set up Heard's shot. Boston rolled away in the third overtime.

"The league changed the rule after that game," Havlicek says. (Indeed, today the ball would go to the Celtics.) "We had all run into the locker room after my shot, thinking the game was over. If the play happened now, Phoenix would have won because that would have been a three-point shot by Heard. Then again, we had hit some long shots too during the game."

The win gave Boston a 3-2 lead. "After we won, the series was finished," Havlicek says. "We went out to Phoenix for the sixth game, but right away you could see those guys were done."

"I was the coach, and everyone says that was the greatest game, but I don't think so," Tom Heinsohn ( Celtics 1956-65 as a player, '69-78 as the coach and now Cousy's partner on game telecasts) says. "To me, the greatest game ever was when we won our first title, in '57, against [the] St. Louis [Hawks]. That was the seventh game, the Finals, and we won by two points [125-123] in two overtimes. I saw the two greatest plays I've ever seen in basketball in that game. The first was when Bill Russell ran the length of the floor faster—faster!—than it took for St. Louis to pass the ball the length of the floor and for a guy to take one dribble and a layup. Russell was there to block the shot. The second play was at the end of the game. [Hawk] Alex Hannum threw the ball inbounds off the backboard from half-court. It was a designed play with one second left. He threw the ball off the backboard, straight to Bob Pettit. Pettit, I think, was so amazed the play worked that he missed the shot. If that game had been played today, with television and all the replays, it would be called the best game ever. Now, nobody even knows about it."

Memory.

There were other grand nights, of course, dozens of them. Besides Havlicek's, there were other grand steals: Gerald Henderson ( Celtics '79-84) against James Worthy and the Lakers in '84, Bird's against Isiah Thomas and the Detroit Pistons in '87. In the '80s there was Bird's succession of playoff duels with the Sixers' Julius Erving and the Knicks' Bernard King and the Atlanta Hawks' Dominique Wilkins. There was Russell versus Wilt. Forever. There was Frank Selvy's shot that missed for the Lakers in the '62 Finals. There was Michael Jordan's coming-out party when he scored 63 in '86.

Tree Rollins of Atlanta bit Danny Ainge's ( Celtics 1981-89) finger in '83. ("Thirty seconds after it happened the story became that I had bitten his finger," Ainge says. "And that's the way it's stayed.") Bird returned from the locker room after taking a face-first tumble and led a first-round, series-clinching win over the Indiana Pacers in '91. Sam Jones made last-second jumpers against the Warriors in '62 and against the Lakers in '69. Russell had 35 rebounds in one title game, 34 in another and was a player for nine titles, a player-coach for two. There was the hot (100�-plus in the building) night in the '84 Finals, Game 5, when the Lakers were informed that the air conditioners they had brought for their dressing room were not compatible with the Garden's electricity. The next year Jack Nicholson mooned the crowd from a skybox when the Lakers finally won a title in Boston. There was the suspended game against the Hawks in '90, when condensation from the ice seeped through the floor.

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