Season Recaps - 1990s
1992: A Legend Retires
After playing for the United States Dream Team at the 1992 Summer Olympic Games in Barcelona, Spain, Larry Bird finally succumbed to his back problems and retired just before the 1992-93 season. One of the greatest careers in NBA history had come to a close. In his 13 seasons, Bird had scored 21,791 points and had earned three Most Valuable Player Awards, three NBA championships, 12 All-Star selections, nine All-NBA First Team selections, and the NBA Rookie of the Year Award.
More importantly, Bird had fanned the flames of a cross-country rivalry between the Lakers and the Celtics that boosted the NBA's popularity. The three NBA Finals battles between Bird's Celtics and Magic Johnson's Lakers will be remembered as among the greatest championship series ever played. Bird's all-around talents, clutch play, and ability to inspire the players around him were considered by many to be unsurpassed in NBA history.
1992-93: Disappointment On The Court, Tragedy Off Of It
Prior to the 1992-93 season the Celtics picked up Xavier McDaniel as a free agent from New York. But with Bird gone, Robert Parish nearly 40 years old, and 35-year-old Kevin McHale playing on sore ankles, it looked like a long season for the club. The team started slowly, dropping 8 of its first 10 games. A loss in the final contest of 1992 gave the Celtics a 12-17 record. After the new year, however, they played inspired basketball, going 36-17 the rest of the way to finish with a 48-34 record, a remarkable performance given the circumstances.
The playoffs, however, were a disappointment. The Celtics faced the Charlotte Hornets, the second of the four recent expansion teams to make the playoffs, and the Hornets eliminated Boston in four games. In Game 1 of the series Reggie Lewis collapsed on the court. He was later diagnosed with arrhythmia (an irregular heartbeat), a condition that brought tragic results in the offseason. On July 27, 1993, while shooting baskets at Brandeis University in Boston, the 27-year-old Lewis collapsed again. He was found by paramedics in complete cardiac arrest and died shortly thereafter.
1993-94: A Steep Decline
Reggie Lewis's death and the retirement of Kevin McHale led to the Celtics' worst season since 1978-79, the year before Larry Bird's debut in the NBA. The 1993-94 Celtics finished 32-50 and out of the playoffs.
Rookie Dino Radja offered some promise. The 6-11 forward from Croatia ranked second on the team in scoring (15.1 ppg) and earned a berth on the NBA All-Rookie Second Team. He became the sixth rookie in Celtics history to amass 1,000 points, joining Bird, Bob Cousy, Tom Heinsohn, Dave Cowens, and John Havlicek. Dee Brown led Boston with 15.5 points per game, and Sherman Douglas ranked seventh in the league in assists with 8.8 per game.
The offseason brought the end of an era when Robert Parish left the team to sign with the Charlotte Hornets as a free agent. Parish was the last remaining member of the Celtics' 1986 championship team. Boston did some maneuvering of its own, naming former Celtics player M. L. Carr as general manager and signing free agents Dominique Wilkins and Pervis Ellison prior to the 1994-95 season.
1994-95: Garden Era Ends In Boston
In their final season at Boston Garden, the Celtics went on a season-ending tear to grab the eighth and final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference. Boston eventually lost to the Orlando Magic in four games in the first round of the playoffs. Despite making it into the postseason, Boston finished the regular season at 35-47 and 22 games out of first place.
The 1994-95 campaign may have been the year that Boston's young backcourt came of age. Sherman Douglas missed 17 games with an injury but played well in the season's second half, finishing with averages of 14.7 points and 6.9 assists per game. Guard Dee Brown put up career numbers, averaging 15.6 points while playing more minutes than any Celtics teammate.
First-round draft choice Eric Montross acquitted himself well, earning a spot on the NBA All-Rookie Second Team. The ninth overall selection in the 1994 NBA Draft, Montross started at center and averaged 10.0 points and 7.3 rebounds for the season. He shot .534 from the floor to rank 13th in the league and tops among first-year players. The Celtics also received big performances from forwards Dominique Wilkins (17.8 ppg, 5.2 rpg) and Dino Radja (17.2 ppg, 8.7 rpg). Wilkins, who came into the season with a career average of 26.5 points per game, posted his lowest scoring numbers to date.
At season's end the Celtics relieved Chris Ford of his coaching duties. In five years at the helm, Ford had compiled a 222-188 record.
1995-96: Celtics Struggles Continue
The Celtics started 1995-96 with a new coach (former player M.L. Carr) and a new home (the brand new FleetCenter). On the court, though, it was pretty much the same old story as the Celtics compiled their third straight losing season. It marked the first time since 1946-50 that the Celtics had suffered as many as three consecutive losing seasons.
They did have some highlights on the way to a 33-49 season. In December, the Celtics reeled off six straight wins, and on April 4, Boston overcame a 19-point deficit to upset the Magic in Orlando, 100-98. That snapped the Magic's string of 51 straight wins at home against Eastern Conference opponents.
Individual highlights included an NBA record by guard Dana Barros, who sank at least one three-point field goal in 89 straight games before the New York Knicks stopped him on January 12. Dino Radja was the most prolific Celtic, averaging 19.7 points and 9.8 rebounds per contest before his season was cut short by an ankle sprain on February 28 vs. Charlotte.
Guard David Wesley picked up the late-season scoring slack, averaging 18.1 points in March and leading Boston to an 8-8 record, its first .500 month of the season. Eric Williams, showed promise in his rookie season, averaging 10.7 ppg and earning a berth in the Rookie Game at All-Star Weekend.
1996-97: C's Endure Painful Year; Then Land Pitino
The 1996-97 Boston Celtics made history in their 50th NBA season, but they will not boast of the 471 games missed to injury, the most in the 11 years that statistic has been kept. Literally and figuratively, it was a painful year for the Celtics, who hobbled to a franchise-worst 15-67 record.
Rookie Antoine Walker and forward Eric Williams were bright spots during a season in which five other key players (Frank Brickowski, Dee Brown, Dana Barros, Dino Radja and Greg Minor) were each limited to fewer than 30 games with injuries.
Walker's scoring average of 17.5 ppg was third among all NBA rookies. He became only the seventh Celtics rookie to score 1,000 points. Williams, meanwhile, averaged 15 ppg and continued to show promise at forward. Rick Fox and David Wesley finished among the top 10 in steals, and Fox set a team single season steals record with 167, surpassing the 166 snared by Larry Bird during the 1995-96 season.
Fox and Wesley were among 10 free agents who left the Celtics after the season. That was not the most sweeping change within the organization. That occurred when Rick Pitino was installed as the Celtics' head coach and president. Pitino, who led the University of Kentucky to a national championship in 1995, was called on by the Celtics to restore the franchise to the dominance it had enjoyed for many of its first 50 years in the NBA.
With the luxury of the third and sixth overall picks in the 1997 draft, Pitino tabbed point guard Chauncey Billups and forward Ron Mercer (who played for Pitino at Kentucky) to lead the team into the new era. M.L. Carr, who endured two rebuilding seasons behind the bench, moved to the front office to become the Director of Corporate Development.
1997-98: The Return of Celtic Pride
When Rick Pitino became head coach and president of the Boston Celtics in 1997, he made a promise to the storied franchise and its many fans to work even harder than Coach (Red) Auerbach to bring back this organization to the championship level.
If year one was any indication, the Celtics are clearly on the right track. Boston made an emphatic statement with a 92-85 victory over the defending NBA champion Chicago Bulls on opening day, and finished the season at 36-46, a21-game improvement over the previous season.
The Celtics' opening day roster was the youngest and least experienced in the NBA this season, but didn't play like it. The Celtics led the NBA in forced turnovers (20.56 pg) and also ranked first in steals per game (12.0 spg). Like their charismatic coach, the Celtics had a strong work ethic and bounced back from several losing steaks throughout the year. Their enthusiasm was evident in Antoine Walker, the team's young star.
The 21-year-old was Boston's leading scorer and rebounder with 22.4 ppg (5th in the NBA) and 10.2 rpg (7th), He scored 49 points at Washington on January 7, tying the record for most points scored by a Celtic in the 1990's, and was the first Celtic to participate in the All-Star Game since 1992.
Rookie Ron Mercer (who like Walker and forward Walter McCarty played for Pitino at Kentucky) had a strong first season and proved he can both score and defend in the NBA. He ranked second on the team in scoring at 15.3 ppg and had his biggest game against Houston on March 19 with career highs in points (31) and steals (6).
In February, Pitino delivered a first-rate point guard to complement the skills of his young forwards. In a seven-player trade with the Toronto Raptors, Boston sent guards Chauncey Billups and Dee Brown, forward John Thomas and center Roy Rogers to Toronto in exchange for veteran playmaker Kenny Anderson, forward Popeye Jones and center Zan Tabak. Though slowed by injury, Anderson led the Celtics to an 8-8 record in his 16 games with Boston.
Even the team's luck got an overhaul. One year after losing the Tim Duncan sweepstakes in the 1997 Draft, the Celtics nabbed highly-touted Paul Pierce with the 10th pick in the 1998 Draft. Pierce, a projected top three pick, somehow fell into Boston's lap, giving fans cause for continued optimism in 1998-99.
1998-99: And a Rookie Shall Lead Them
When Paul Pierce was still available at the 10th pick of the 1998 NBA Draft, the Boston Celtics did a double-take--and then jumped all over the junior from Kansas.
Pierce burst from the gates and was named Rookie of the Month in February, the first month of the lockout-shortened season. He didn't slow down, averaging 16.5 points, 6.4 rebounds and 1.71 steals for the year.
Pierce, a unanimous selection to the All-Rookie First Team, teamed with Antoine Walker (18.7 ppg) and Ron Mercer (17.0 ppg) to form a high-scoring trio. The Celtics, however, still had their struggles and finished 19-31.
The Celtics landed a new starting center on March 11 when they acquired Vitaly Potapenko from Cleveland for Andrew DeClerq and a first-round pick. Potapenko averaged 10.8 points and 7.2 rebounds in 33 games with Boston.
1999-2000: Two Young Stars Begin To Develop
Celtics fans started to get a glimpse of the promise and leadership of their top two young stars, Antoine Walker and Paul Pierce, as the dynamic duo finish the regular season 1-2 in seven of the team's statistical categories. Walker paced the team averaging 20.5 points per game, while Pierce was right on his heels averaging 19.5 points per game. Walker, along with veteran point guard Kenny Anderson, were the only two players to start and play in all 82 regular season games. The hard-working and durable Co-captain Walker was the lone Celtics player to log more than 3,000 minutes (3,003) during the season.
Boston became known for quick hands and opportunistic play as they led the NBA in steals per game (795), an average of 9.7 steals per contest. Pierce became the leader on the team in this department and he would conclude the season second-best in the league (152), an average of 2.08 per game.
The Celtics finished the campaign with a 35-47 record and a 5th place position in the Atlantic Division.
The Green and White took care of business on their FleetCenter home court as they posted a respectable home record of 26-15 (the most wins at home in a season at the FleetCenter), but struggled on the road compiling a 9-32 mark away from home. Boston captured nine of their last 13 games at home, which also qualified as their best home record since the 1992-93 team finished 28-13 at home.