A taste of winning made Havlicek hungrier

By Julian Benbow
Globe Staff / June 16, 2010

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LOS ANGELES — The image of Bill Russell cupping his 11 championship rings is as good a symbol as any. The Celtics have always been a franchise that talked about championships in plural form.

When Ray Allen, Kevin Garnett, and Ray Allen came together to help the Celtics win the 2008 NBA championship — the team’s first title in 23 years — they had just enough time to cherish the crown they waited their entire careers to earn before having to set their sights on winning another. Their place in Celtics lore depended on it.

John Havlicek won eight championships in 16 seasons with the Celtics, including four straight from 1963-66. He was 22 years old and fresh out of Ohio State when he helped the Celtics beat the Lakers in six games for the championship in 1963. The first one only made him hungrier for more.

“Any time you win one, you have to feel grateful, but I was fortunate enough to be on eight [championship] teams. I think once you get the one, you’re always thirsty for another one,’’ Havlicek said.

Hoop historians are able to group the titles together and use them to define eras, but players typically look at them individually. From the time Tom “Satch’’ Sanders won his first ring with an aging Bob Cousy and Bill Sharman to the time he won his eighth with Havlicek, he had seen more than enough faces come in and out of the locker room.

“Every team is different, every year is different, and all those individuals bring something different to the game,’’ Sanders said. “People like to pull everything together or talk about it as if it’s all in a row or all the same people, but each year is different. Even when we played, even though the nucleus stayed pretty much the same, every year was really a different year.

“Some years, players were at the peak of their game, some years, players didn’t play as well as they played the year before — the stress and pressure does things to people in terms of reaction. But with another year of playing, things change.’’

Midway through this season, as injuries and inconsistency plagued the current Celtics, there were questions about whether they could compete for another title. Even without multiple titles, Havlicek said what this incarnation of Celtics did puts them in a special place.

“They’ve validated themselves as champions,’’ Havlicek said. “I’m sure they’re going to do their best to get another one. If they don’t, it’s not going to tarnish that one that they had in 2008. Everybody wants to win more than one, and often times there are people that never get a chance to even compete for a title.’’

Spreading the wealth
Even though they were up, three games to two, going into Game 6, the Celtics didn’t have a clear-cut Most Valuable Player for the series.

From Allen’s record-setting shooting display in Game 2 to the bench’s series-saving performance in Game 4 to Pierce breaking out of his Finals-long slump in Game 5, the wins had come from scattered sources.

“I’m not that surprised by that,’’ said coach Doc Rivers. “We’ve been a team that all year it’s been different guys, and the reason we’re here, I think, is because our guys accept that. I don’t think they worry about who the MVP is. I don’t think they care. I think they’re more concerned about winning.’’

Meanwhile, Los Angeles’s Kobe Bryant had averaged 30.2 points, 6.0 rebounds, and 4.4 assists, far and away the best player on the floor statistically. The only player to be named Finals MVP despite losing the series was Jerry West after averaging nearly 38 points a night in the 1969 loss to Boston.

The chatter that Bryant could be the second didn’t surprise Rivers.

“Well, he is an MVP, so it’s not a shock,’’ Rivers said. “He’s a great player, and great players play great on big stages. We’re not surprised by that. We felt that he would, and we felt that we could still win games.’’

No rest for weary
For the second time in the series, the teams had to take cross-country flights and play on just a single day’s rest. As far as preparing his team and still giving them some rest, Rivers said, “I haven’t figured it out. I don’t think anyone has. This was a tough one. Not a lot of time. We watched some film and walked through stuff in ballrooms. It’s a tough one. I wish there was more time, but there isn’t. Both teams are in the same predicament, so we’ll deal with it.’’ . . . Garnett is generally considered the Celtics’ emotional leader, but even Rivers was surprised after Game 5 when Garnett was the one calming teammates down. “That’s funny that he says that,’’ Garnett said. “I try get in guys’ faces and be one-on-one versus say it in group, or if I’ve got to say it in a group, so be it. Sometimes I might have all my emotions together, but in situations where I can be a decent teammate, if not a better teammate and try to help a guy out, I do that. I try to be very up-front and truthful with them, and sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn’t. But it’s for me to say it.’’ . . . The draft is eight days away, but Rivers was so wrapped up in the series he hardly knew. “It’s scary to know that the draft is this close,’’ he said. “I hadn’t thought about that at all. I don’t even know what pick we have.’’ The Celtics have the 19th pick.

Julian Benbow can be reached at

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