Picked-up pieces while wondering which Jayson Tatum shows up at the Garden Sunday …
▪ Hello Game 7, old friend.
We have Celtics-76ers in a winner-take-all conference semifinal game.
Historically, the Celtics are Mr. Game 7, the way Reggie Jackson is Mr. October, the way Billy Crystal is Mr. Saturday Night. Tatum, Jaylen Brown, and Marcus Smart may know nothing of their forebears, but the fact remains that, historically, the Boston Celtics own Game 7.
The Celtics have played more Game 7s (35) than any other NBA team. Dating back to the days when Bill Russell roamed the parquet, the Celtics are 26-9 in Game 7s. Russell was 10-0 in ultimate games, winning the last game of his 13-year career with a Game 7 championship victory over the Wilt Chamberlain/Elgin Baylor/Jerry West Lakers in the LA Forum in 1969.
Boston’s fabled basketball team didn’t lose its first Game 7 until 1973, when Russell was gone and John Havlicek hurt his shoulder in an epic series with the New York Knicks.
What happened in those great old days has nothing to do with what will happen Sunday against Joel Embiid, but there’s some comfort in a legacy forged by Russell, Sam Jones, and Red Auerbach in ancient days when a smoke was still a smoke (Hoyo de Monterrey for Red) and having home court was a significant advantage in any winner-take-all NBA game.
Oddly, the New Garden has not been our friend this spring. The Bruins (remember them?) and Celtics have gone an aggregate 1-6 in seven playoff games on Causeway Street since the Bruins were first beaten by the Florida Panthers in Round 1 April 19.
The Celtics almost certainly need a better start from Tatum in this game. He was a disaster at the beginning of Game 4 (first basket in the final minute of the first half), Game 5 (0 for 5 in the first quarter), and Game 6 (1 for 14 in the first 3½ quarters).
“It’s tough to believe in somebody when they only make one shot,” a relieved Tatum said Thursday after winning the game in the final 4:14. “But I know the guys believe in me until the clock hits zero.”
These Celtics won two Game 7s en route to the Finals last spring. The 2008 Celtics (coached by Doc Rivers) won two Game 7s en route to the franchise’s last banner. The Sixers have not advanced to a conference final since 2001.
Game 7 in Celtics lore is Havlicek stealing the ball, Russell and Sam puncturing balloons in the Forum ceiling, Dave Cowens outplaying Kareem Abdul-Jabbar in Milwaukee’s Mecca. It’s Cedric Maxwell saying, “Hop on my back, boys,” then scoring a season-high 24 to beat the Lakers in 1984.
Now it’s time for more Celtic Game 7 history.
See you Sunday.
▪ Quiz: Name nine Red Sox who had 20 or more homers and steals in a single season for Boston (answer below).
▪ Here we are two weeks later, and Bruce Cassidy’s Vegas Golden Knights are still very much alive in the Stanley Cup playoffs.
▪ With Aaron Rodgers on board, the Jets are slotted for six prime-time games this year, including the first-ever “Black Friday” game Nov. 24. The Jets played on prime-time TV only nine times over the last five seasons. They’ve lost their last eight prime-time games. The “Butt Fumble” game and Sam Darnold “Seeing Ghosts” both came in prime time. The Jets’ last “Sunday Night Football” appearance was in 2011 against the Patriots.
▪ Sorry if you’re too young to remember the meteoric rise of Vida Blue back in 1971. Blue lost his first start, then won eight in a row, all complete games. At the age of 22, he finished 24-8 with a 1.82 ERA, 24 complete games, 8 shutouts, and 312 innings. He won the Cy Young Award — named for Denton True “Cy” Young — and the MVP.
Blue filled ballparks when he pitched, including Fenway on May 28 when he lost to Sonny Siebert and the Red Sox, 4-3, in front of the biggest Fenway crowd (35,714) in three seasons. Blue came into the game 10-1, Siebert 8-0. Rico Petrocelli’s two homers off Blue won it for Boston.
My high school pal, John Iannacci, named his dog “Vida.” Goofy A’s owner Charles O. Finley offered Blue $2,000 to legally change his name to Vida “True” Blue. Blue refused and said, “If Mr. Finley thinks it’s such a great name, why doesn’t he call himself “True O. Finley”?
Blue is the only player in baseball history with an MVP, a Cy Young, 200 wins, and three World Series rings.
▪ A Rivers story: On May 1, 1983, I sat at the courtside press table covering the Celtics’ Game 3 loss to the Bucks at the old Mecca in Milwaukee. Seated in the chair to my left was a junior guard from Marquette named Glenn Rivers.
The Larry Bird-Robert Parish-Kevin McHale Celtics were in the process of getting swept by the Bucks, and referee Jake O’Donnell came by the press table in mid-game and said, “Did you ever seen Boston play like this?”
We were in the final days of the Bill Fitch regime in Boston, which made way for K.C. Jones and championships in two of the next three seasons. Young Glenn told me he was thinking of forgoing his senior season at Marquette and going into the NBA Draft. Forty years later, here we are.
▪ It’s pretty amazing that West Virginia basketball coach Bob Huggins keeps his job after twice uttering a homophobic slur during an appearance with nitwit radio in Cincinnati. Huggy Bear had a 28 percent graduation rate in his long term at Cincinnati, including four years of 0.0. West Virginia accepted a (one-year) million-dollar salary cut, a three-game suspension, and Huggins will undergo sensitivity training.
▪ When Rangers catcher Jonah Heim came to the plate in Anaheim, the giant scoreboard featured his photo, stats, and this: “Has a daughter however missed an opportunity and did not name her Ana.” Instead of Ana Heim, the catcher’s daughter is Luxx Blakely Heim.
▪ Sorry to hear of the imminent closing of Cambridge Matignon School, an institution with a rich local high school hockey history and the home of playoff mohawk haircuts. NHL players Shawn McEachern, Steve Leach, and Niko Dimitrakos are some of the hockey talents who played for the Warriors.
▪ Former FCC chief Newton Minow, who insulted the television industry in 1961, denouncing TV as “a vast wasteland,” died last weekend in Chicago at the age of 97. Writers of one of television’s most cerebral sitcoms, “Gilligan’s Island,” fired back at the pompous administrator by naming the sitcom’s ill-fated tour boat the S.S. Minnow. This has zero connection to sports, but I thought you all should know.
▪ Load management note: Bob Ryan reminds me that Havlicek played all but two minutes of the 1969 seven-game NBA Finals with the Lakers and actually fouled out of one of the losses with one second left in the game.
▪ Longtime Louisville basketball coach Denny Crum died Tuesday at the age of 86. Crum won two NCAA championships for the Cardinals, and in Bird’s autobiography (written with Ryan), Bird wrote, “The man who recruited me hardest was Denny Crum. He said, ‘If I could beat you in a game of Horse, would you come for a visit?’ Coach Crum thought he was still a pretty decent player. I started taking him real deep. I put him away in about eight shots. I never did go [to visit Louisville].”
▪ RIP quarterback Joe Kapp, who died from Alzheimer’s disease Monday at the age of 85. Kapp was a Super Bowl quarterback with the Vikings, then came to the Boston Patriots for the 1970 season under the inimitable Clive Rush (and later John Mazur after Rush went on a leave of absence).
Kapp was paid $600,000, which was the largest NFL contract at the time. He threw three touchdown passes, 17 interceptions, and was sacked 27 times in a 2-12 season, then was replaced in 1971 by No. 1 overall pick Jim Plunkett.
Kapp went on to coach at Cal and was the coach for the infamous Stanford band game.
▪ Quiz answer: Jackie Jensen, Carl Yastrzemski, Ellis Burks, John Valentin, Nomar Garciaparra, Dustin Pedroia, Jacoby Ellsbury, Andrew Benintendi, Mookie Betts.