No Boston Celtic team since 1948-49 had ever lost this many games in a row at home. Six. The Houston Rockets disposed of the Celtics 94-84 on Jan. 12 at the Boston Garden in one of those perfunctory wins, a good team overpowering a bad team, the bad team coming close for a few illusory moments, the good team running away at the end.
"Chief, have you ever done this before?" Dino Radja, Boston's rookie forward from Croatia, asked center Robert Parish, the last remnant from the long run of Celtic glory days, glory moments. "Have you ever gone zero before?"
"Zero?" Parish asked.
"Oh, this is the second time, I think," Parish said. "The first time...I can't even remember. I was at Golden State. It was a long time ago. A long, long time ago."
Zero points for Parish. Thirty-seven points, 11 rebounds for Houston center Hakeem Olajuwon. The balance of NBA power has shifted so far out of whack that the Celtics, 14-23 at week's end, are in a surreal netherworld in which neither they nor their followers ever imagined they would find themselves. If the Los Angeles Lakers are falling apart on the West Coast, Boston is more than keeping pace on the East. Last Friday the Celtics lost their seventh in a row at home, 102-95 to the Los Angeles Clippers. The last time the Celtics lost as many as six in a row at home, team president Red Auerbach was a bright young basketball mind working in Washington, D.C.; not one of Boston's 16 world championships had been won; and neither Parish nor Larry Bird nor Kevin McHale had been born.
A good start this season was an illusion. The Celtics roared out of the blocks at 6-2 and won four of their first five games on the road. There were thoughts that despite all that had happened in the past couple of years—Bird's retirement and McHale's retirement and Reggie Lewis's death—Boston would find a way to survive. Radja, brought from Europe, would be a grand surprise. First round draft choice Acie Earl would be a steal. The Celtics would be the Celtics, not champions, perhaps, but still vital and alive. The magic of the green uniform and the leprechaun logo would conquer all.
This was wrong. As of Sunday, Boston had lost 13 of its last 16 games. If the playoffs began tomorrow, these would be the first Celtics not to qualify since the 1978-79 squad. No Celtic is among the top 70 scorers in the NBA, the top 30 rebounders or the top 20 shooters. Boston is fifth worst in opponents' field goal percentage and seventh worst in points allowed.
"What happened?" Celtic forward Xavier McDaniel asked after the loss to Houston. "When I played for other teams and I'd come in here, the Celtics would be 32-6 and the leprechaun would be running all over the building."
"The leprechaun is dead," Parish said. "Len Bias died and Larry's back hurt and Kevin's body fell apart and Reggie Lewis is dead. The leprechaun has been dead for a long time. What year was it that Len Bias died?"
"He was our first draft choice in 1986," someone said.
"Eight years," Parish said. "The leprechaun has been dead for eight years. That's the way it is. He hasn't been around here for a long time."
Olajuwon made sure that McDaniel and the Celtics remained down on their luck.