Meet the Men in Green - John Havlicek
By Sean Sullivan
Over the years, the Boston Celtics have won 16 World Championships by playing with the type of fearless basketball that is rarely seen today. The Celtics defended their home court with tenacious defense and a genuine emotion for the game that is hard to find today. Rarely was the team outplayed either at the Boston Garden or on the road. In other words, you could say the team played "Havlicek ball."
For 16 seasons, John Havlicek played the type of basketball that earned him a Hall of Fame induction in 1983. One of the greatest Celtics defenders of all-time, Havlicek was named to the NBA All-Defensive First Team five times, and the Second Team three times. Havlicek's ability to score, however, made him one of the most complete players in the history of the league. For his career, Havlicek averaged 20.8 points, 4.8 rebounds, 4.8 assists, and 2.8 steals per game.
Perhaps his most courageous effort as a Celtic, though, came during the playoffs of the 1975-76 season. In those playoffs, Havlicek found himself battling a torn fascia in his right foot that required him to carry a plastic wash basin wherever he went so that he could ice his foot religiously. Never would you hear the Celtics legend complain about his foot injury though, despite his obvious pain.
"It was just a matter of self-discipline," said Havlicek. "It would have been easy to say 'forget about it,' to just not play. But that's where playing on this team all those years helps. I've seen so many guys play with a lot worse injuries-Frank Ramsey, K.C. Jones, Bill Russell."
Havlicek continued on, showing his unselfish nature yet again.
"I just wanted to do as much as I could. I was just along for the ride. The other guys pulled me along -- and I was glad to go."
Despite the nagging injury, which would have kept many other players off the court altogether, Havlicek played in 15 of 18 playoff games in the 1975-76 year. Averaging 13.2 points, 3.7 rebounds, and 3.4 assists per game, Havlicek was a driving force in the Celtics charge to their 13th World Championship.
During the regular season, a campaign in which Havlicek averaged 17.0 points, 4.1 rebounds, and 3.7 assists, the former Ohio State Buckeye played like he had the body of a rookie. If there was a loose ball on the floor, nine times out of 10, Havlicek was going to come up with the ball.
The injured foot forced Havlicek to miss three games against the Buffalo Braves in the Conference Semi-Final Series. Still, in the three games that he did play, Havlicek averaged 14.7 points and shut down his opponents with his trademark "leave it all on the floor" defense. Boston eventually took the series four games to two, wrapping up the series with a win on the road.
The Phoenix Suns entered the NBA Finals as an underdog. They came off a grueling seven game series in which they stunned a strong Warriors team in Game 7 at Golden State.. From all indications, it was the perfect set up for a battle between two unlikely, but two very emotional and hustling basketball teams. It was in this series that Havlicek truly stepped up and showed the world why he was an eleven-time All-Star.
Havlicek was third on the team in scoring for the series with 15.5 points per game and second in assists with 4.5 assists per game. Boston took the first two games of the series at home and quickly let Phoenix know that if they didn't get it together, it was going to be a short series. The Suns did just that, storming back in Games 3 and 4 by scores of 105-98 and 109-107, respectively, pulling themselves even at two games apiece.
If there ever was a war on a basketball court, certainly it must have been during Game 5 of this Championship Series at the Boston Garden. Dubbed by many as "The Greatest Game Ever Played," Game 5 went into three overtimes.
Havlicek, the aging legend of the Boston Celtics, was virtually playing on one foot. That did not stop him, however, from playing in an amazing 58 minutes of that game. Not only did he dump in 22 points, but he also added eight assists and five rebounds. Having Havlicek on the court for 58 minutes in that game was perhaps as valuable as any player has ever been to his team in one game. Only Jo Jo White, with a team high 60 minutes, was on the court more than Havlicek.
It was in the second overtime that Havlicek hit an off-balance bank shot that gave the Celtics a 111-110 lead with two seconds to go. However, Phoenix' Paul Westphal called a time-out, fully aware that his team had none, giving the Suns a technical foul, but allowing them to get the ball at once more. After White sank a free throw to make it 112-110, the Suns' Gar Heard capitalized on a 22-foot turnaround shot to tie the game and send it to a third overtime. The Celtics built a six-point lead in the next frame and soon outlasted the Suns 128-126 in three overtimes.
"We got down to the last one and everybody poured his guts out," said an emotionally exhausted Heinsohn after the game. "That's the only way we won. With spunkiness. We knew what we had to do."
Finally, as was a Boston tradition in these playoffs, the Celtics clinched the series on Phoenix's home court, and sealed their 13th World Championship. Havlicek would go on to play in two more All-Star Games and on October 13, 1978 had his number 17 retired as one of the best players in Celtics and league history. He retired as the epitome of hustle and a master of defense. Simply put, he played "Havlicek" ball.