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dan shaughnessy

Retracing the deep Celtics roots of Pacers coach Rick Carlisle, and other thoughts

Rick Carlisle (center) was flanked by Danny Ainge (left) and Larry Bird (right) at a City Hall Plaza celebration honoring the 1986 champion Celtics.Greene, Bill Globe Staff

Picked-up pieces while anticipating the Celtics raising Banner No. 18 to the rafters later this year …

▪ The Indiana Pacers are the only team standing between the Celtics and another trip to the NBA Finals. The Pacers, down 2-0 entering Saturday night’s Game 3, are coached by Rick Carlisle, a 64-year-old NBA lifer with a million connections to New England and the Celtics.

Carlisle ranks 12th in regular-season victories by an NBA head coach with 943. Red Auerbach ranks 13th with 938.

I knew him when he had hair. (Rick, not Red.)

Carlisle was a handsome, 24-year-old, piano-playing psychology major from the University of Virginia when he showed up at Celtics free agent/rookie camp in the summer of 1984. He was a third-round pick, which meant we initially paid little attention to him in those summer-night scrimmages at Marshfield High.


Michael Young, who had been a member of Phi Slama Jama at Houston with Hakeem Olajuwon and Clyde Drexler, was Auerbach’s first-round pick. He was the guy we watched.

Still, Carlisle was something of a local curiosity. A native of Upstate New York, he’d played a year at Worcester Academy, then two seasons at Maine before transferring to Virginia, where he played with Ralph Sampson and against Maryland’s Len Bias.

In 1984 preseason games, Celtics coach K.C. Jones didn’t know Carlisle’s name. Case would regularly look at the back of Carlisle’s uniform, then say, “Carlisle, get over here.”

Celtics players called Carlisle “Flip,” short for “Flipper,” because his size-14 sneakers seemed too big for his 6-foot-5-inch frame. After Young was cut, Carlisle made the team. He lockered between Dennis Johnson and Kevin McHale.

Not everyone thought Carlisle belonged. In Harvey Araton and Filip Bondy’s 1992 tome, “The Selling of the Green,” the New York authors characterized Carlisle as “a very white, third-round savior — one who could not push the ball downcourt, but could play piano.”


Harsh. And unfair. Carlisle was a serviceable NBA backup and wound up being a Celtics bench player for three seasons, all years in which they made it to the Finals. In 1985-86, he was a member of the greatest NBA team of all time — come and get me — the world champion Celtics who went 50-1 at home (including Hartford and playoffs) and destroyed all playoff competition.

Carlisle was part of the Celtics' Green Team from 1984-85 through 1986-87. The Celtics reached the NBA Finals in each season.

Carlisle was part of Bill Walton’s second unit, the “Green Team,” during that magical season. In regular-season game No. 79, Jones started Carlisle alongside Walton, Scott Wedman, Greg Kite, and Jerry Sichting. The Green Teamers — battle-tested against Larry Bird, Robert Parish, McHale, Danny Ainge, and DJ in practice every day — walloped the estimable Bucks, 126-114. It was the only start of Carlisle’s five-year, 200-game (including playoffs) NBA career.

He made a lot of friends in his three seasons with the Celtics, including late Boston Herald sportswriter Mike Carey. In the summer of 1985, Carlisle was staying at Carey’s home and driving Carey’s car to practices in Marshfield, where we all noticed the play of a dazzling young Auerbach “camp counselor” from Maryland.

“This guy Bias is the best player in the country,” Carlisle told me. “He’ll be a top lottery pick next spring.”

Carlisle was waived at the end of camp in 1987, but signed with the Knicks and played 26 games for Rick Pitino. He thought his career was over after the Knicks let him go, but Carey made a call to former Celtics coach Bill Fitch, and Carlisle wound up becoming Fitch’s assistant coach after playing his final NBA games with Fitch’s Nets in 1989.


He has been coaching in the NBA ever since and is probably bound for the Basketball Hall of Fame, despite the fact he and his Pacers classically choked away Game 1 against the Celtics with poor clock management and late-game decisions.

Carlisle was Bird’s assistant for three seasons with the Pacers at the turn of the century and was head coach of the NBA champion Mavericks in 2011.

“I have fond memories of basketball in the ’80s,” Carlisle told me a while back. “The top teams were so great to watch. Boston, LA, Detroit, Houston. There were a lot of great things happening.

Carlisle led the Pacers to a 47-35 record this season, sixth in the Eastern Conference.Dylan Buell/Getty

“Now it’s progressed through two or three different generations and the popularity of the league has grown. Now it’s the ultimate speed and skill game on the planet.

“In the ’80s, the Celtics were shooting two or three 3-pointers per game. Now it’s 45-50 per game. The evolution of the 3-point shot in the NBA largely started with Rick Pitino in New York, but no one saw this coming, where guys are pulling up for 40-foot shots on a consistent basis and making them at an amazing rate.

“It’s really opened the game up. I’m part of the evolution. I view it fondly. We’ve had to be on the adaptive side of changes in the game and it’s been an amazing ride.”



What about the ’85-86 Celtics? Best of all time?

“I don’t argue against it,” he said. “That team would win in any era.”

▪ Quiz: Shohei Ohtani could win the National League MVP award with the Dodgers this year. He won two American League MVPs with the Angels. Name four players since 1960 who have won MVPs with two teams (answer below).

▪ All props to Jaylen Brown and the Celtics for their late-night heroics Tuesday. It makes me wonder how the game was received in Indiana, because this was one colossal gag job by the Pacers.

For old-time Celtics fans, it was impossible to watch Indiana’s late-game implosion and not be reminded of the Lakers in the 1984 NBA Finals at the Garden. Those Lakers had a 1-0 series lead and a 2-point Game 2 lead, with the ball and 18 seconds remaining. That’s when Gerald Henderson stole a lazy James Worthy cross-court pass and tied the game.

LA blew a chance to win it in regulation as Magic Johnson inexplicably dribbled out the clock while Kareem Abdul-Jabbar called for the basketball. Those Lakers never recovered, and the Celtics won in seven.

▪ Kyrie Irving vs. the Celtics in the NBA Finals? Hope he brings his sage to Boston.

▪ Hub hardball fans of a certain age smile when they see “Cooper” playing first base in a Red Sox box score.


▪ Former Globe columnist Leigh Montville correctly asks, “Do the Celtics have any plays?” Seriously. What do they work on in practice?

▪ None of the NHL’s final four teams have won the Stanley Cup in this century.

▪ The Knicks’ loss to the Pacers Sunday was their first Game 7 at Madison Square Garden since 1995. According to Vivid Seats, the average ticket price was $959.

▪ One of my readers has nicknamed the fragile Kristaps Porzingis, “Krystal Blue Porzingis.”

▪ Any of you remember rookie Al Horford playing against the Celtics for Atlanta in the first round of Boston’s Kevin Garnett-charged championship run way back in 2008? The 21-year-old Al started all seven games and averaged 12.6 points and 10.4 rebounds, but did not take a single 3-point shot.

Al Horford (right) and Hawks teammate Josh Smith (left) double-teamed the Celtics' Kendrick Perkins in a 2008 game.TAMI CHAPPELL

Vaughn Grissom for Chris Sale is starting to feel like a latter-day Danny Cater for Sparky Lyle. Too bad the Sox can’t blame that one on Chaim Bloom.

▪ The 2024 Red Sox had the same record through 50 games that the 2023 Red Sox had: 26-24.

▪ A caller to 98.5 The Sports Hub suggested that the Bruins are the Dallas Cowboys: Regular-season warriors, postseason turtlers.

▪ Whom do you root for: Rangers or Panthers?

▪ Because MLB analytics love “framing pitches,” big league catchers are creeping closer to hitters, which results in more interference calls and injuries. Cardinals catcher Willson Contreras suffered a broken forearm (and was charged with catcher’s interference) when he was struck by the bat of J.D. Martinez. It’s another bad trend we can blame on baseball’s nerds.

As reported in The Athletic, Vancouver Canuck Tyler Myers and Detroit Piston Quentin Grimes are the only NHL/NBA brother bookends in history. Tonja Stelly gave birth to Tyler in 1990 and to Quentin in 2000. The young men have different fathers.

▪ Outfielder Monte Harrison, who played 50 games and went to the plate 76 times with the Marlins and Angels between 2020-22, plans to walk on with Arkansas football this year as a wide receiver. He’ll turn 29 in August. He was drafted by the Brewers in 2014 and hasn’t played football in 10 years.

▪ Saw a photo of Ben Affleck out and about in Los Angeles with J-Lo last weekend. Ben was wearing a “Full Throttle 2024 / Believe in Boston” T-shirt. Pretty good.

▪ Former Littleton High star pitcher Kasey Ricard went 28-4 with a 1.23 ERA as a sophomore on Boston University’s nationally ranked, 53-win softball team. The Terriers were eliminated by Oregon in last weekend’s NCAA regionals. Ricard also is a Red Sox ball attendant.

▪ Color me impressed that the last-place 2-9-1 Revolution can draw 34,947 to Gillette for a 3-0 loss to Philadelphia on a cold, overcast Saturday night.

▪ Bellingham High senior Joe Corsi played in front of his grandmother and more than a dozen family members and friends when the Blackhawks baseball team played at Newton North last Friday. Corsi, the son of the late Newton North and Red Sox hurler Jim Corsi, knocked in a run and stole a base in a 5-4 loss. Included in the crowd was 87-year-old Dotty Corsi, Jim’s mother and Joe’s grandmother.

▪ Quiz answer: Bryce Harper (Nationals, Phillies), Alex Rodriguez (Rangers, Yankees), Barry Bonds (Pirates, Giants), Frank Robinson (Reds, Orioles).

What’s making this Celtics run so special?
WATCH: Is Jrue Holiday the secret sauce? Does Jayson Tatum deserve criticism? Can Kristaps Porzingis elevate them? Reporter Adam Himmelsbach weighs in.

Dan Shaughnessy is a Globe columnist. He can be reached at daniel.shaughnessy@globe.com. Follow him @dan_shaughnessy.