Recap - 1990s
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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.