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It's Walton and Grateful Celtics : Boston Is Hungry--and Much Deeper With Former Clipper

February 16, 1986|THOMAS BONK | Times Staff Writer

Wearing a Grateful Dead T-shirt and a towel, Bill Walton considered the meaning of time. The best way to understand it, he said, is to close your eyes and pretend you're spread out on a towel at the beach.

"Now, you're sitting there and it's about 2 o'clock in the afternoon, and you don't want the sun to go down yet," Walton said. "See? I'm in no hurry to go anywhere. I'm sure June will come along in its own good time. I'm having too much fun in the present."

That is what it means to be a Boston Celtic right now. The Celtics wear green uniforms, play in black sneakers, work for a guy named Red and harbor a dislike for the color purple, although they fully expect to see plenty of that later on.

That would be in June, when the NBA final is played and the Celtics meet the Lakers for the third straight year.

It's surely going to happen, isn't it?

"We expect to be there," Celtic center Robert Parish said. "I expect them to be there, too."

But first, there's this small matter of time to deal with. The Celtics count the days until June by the number of victories they are collecting along the way. Since Christmas, they number 20 against only 2 defeats.

The winning has come easily for the Celtics, who arrive at the Forum today to play the Lakers with the NBA's best record (40-9) and a new sense of purpose. This may be only a regular-season meeting between the top two teams in the league, but the Celtics seem to be playing as though they have something to prove.

They are on a mission from Red. When the Lakers extinguished the glow of Red Auerbach's cigar in last season's championship series, something new and different happened to the Celtics, something that put this season in a different light.

"We've got incentive," Parish said. "We are hungry. Last year in the playoffs, the Lakers just wanted it more than we did."

It should be pointed out that these are not the same Celtics who lost their championship to the Lakers in six games. They're not even the same Celtics who leveled the Lakers by 15 points three weeks ago in Boston Garden.

The Celtics are deeper, with new players Walton and point guard Jerry Sichting getting a lot of important minutes, but they don't have a healthy Kevin McHale. His left Achilles' tendon is so sore that he has played only 12 minutes since the last Laker game on Jan. 22.

Even without McHale, though, the Celtics are winning games, with Scott Wedman in his place, which says something about the depth of their team. Last season, something was also said about the Celtic depth and it wasn't very nice.

But Coach K.C. Jones is using more players than he has in the past, and everything is turning out fine.

"There's nothing wrong with our bench," said Jones, who was roundly criticized in last season's playoffs for not using enough of his players. "Our bench has become quite a force for us."

The Celtics' season may have swung on Christmas in New York when they blew a 25-point lead and lost to the Knicks. It was then that the Celtics arrived at a certain painful realization.

"We learned we can be beat by anybody," guard Danny Ainge said. "Even if you're the Boston Celtics or the L.A. Lakers, you can't just show up and win. That game was the first time I ever saw something that bad happen to us. I think it shook everybody up a little bit."

Larry Bird, the most vital Celtic, was as shaken as anybody.

"If there's one game that sticks out in my mind this season, it's that one," he said. "No question, we've played a lot better since then. One of the things I'm scared about with this team is that we seem to have a tendency to relax when things are going good. It's not going to be easy, we have to realize."

The Celtics just have this habit of making it look easy.

Before losing at Sacramento last Tuesday night, the Celtics had won 13 straight games in all the usual ways. Wedman filled in, Ainge shot, Dennis Johnson passed, Parish rebounded and Bird did everything.

The Celtics do it all with such style, if you don't count their black sneakers.

This is not the first time the Celtics have worn black sneakers. They merely revived a tradition from the early 1960s, when Auerbach gave up on white footwear for Celtic players because the sneakers got dirty and he had to buy clean ones all the time.

Johnson attaches no special significance to the color of the sneakers he is wearing.

"Green, blue, black, red, once you hit the floor, you don't worry about that, you worry about how many shots are going in the basket," he said.

Whatever shoes the Celtics wear, the footprints always lead to the basket. The path to a championship leads them to the Lakers. They meet only twice during the regular season, which isn't enough time to put a lasting hurt on the other team.

Two seasons ago, the Lakers swept the Celtics in the regular season and then lost to Boston in a seven-game final series. Last season, they split their two regular-season games.

"You can throw everything out the window at playoff time," Johnson said. "The edge then is mental."

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