General Manager Red Auerbach said yesterday he does not expect to make major changes despite the Boston Celtics having been swept out of the National Basketball Association playoffs in four games by the Milwaukee Bucks.
The Celtics' major problem this season involved playing time, according to team sources. Players such as Tiny Archibald and M.L. Carr became disgruntled because they were playing less; other reserves, who had been starters, did not adjust to their supporting roles. As a result, the Celtics were playing with little motivation by the last two weeks of the regular season and in two playoff series.
"We had too much talk this year and not enough action," forward Larry Bird said.
Although Auerbach said major changes are unlikely, reserves Kevin McHale and Carr will become free agents at the end of the playoffs, and Bird and Cedric Maxwell will after next season.
"So we played badly in the playoffs," Auerbach said. "We still won 56 games during the season. You don't go into panicsville and break up a ball club as good as this one just because you lose one series. We were awful, and it'll be hard to put it behind us. We take losing very hard because we don't want it happening again."
This was the first time the Celtics have been swept in a best-of-seven series.
Coach Bill Fitch has been under fire much of the season and even a number of players voiced dissatisfaction with him at one time or another. There also was speculation that if the Celtics did poorly in the playoffs, Fitch might lose his job. But immediately after Monday's 107-93 loss in Milwaukee, Fitch said he liked this Celtics team and already was looking forward to next season.
"I don't look at this as an end, but as a beginning," he said. "We've had four great years together, and I expect to have four more."
The Celtics had the third-best regular season record in the league, behind the Philadelphia 76ers and Los Angeles Lakers, but didn't appear to play hard at the end of the season or in the playoffs. They strugled against the Atlanta Hawks in the first round, getting pushed to three games.
Boston failed to score 100 points in any of the four games against Milwaukee, and reached that mark only once in the Atlanta series.
"We just never got the job done," Bird said. "We always had guys saying, 'We'll get it done tomorrow,' but when tomorrow came, we kept on talking instead of doing it. We said we'd get our minds together in the playoffs and make a good run, but we didn't and ended up getting embarrassed. I'm sure the fans feel the same way, and I don't blame them.
"The coach had nothing to do with it, either. The blame lands on the players."
Said Fitch, "I thought we quit for only five minutes of the first game, because we didn't know how to react when we were getting our butts kicked. But that didn't last long. We played as hard as we could the rest of the time."
Five reserves--Archibald, Carr, McHale, Scott Wedman and Quinn Buckner--once were starters; as a result, there just weren't enough minutes to keep everyone happy.
"Playing time was a problem all year," said K.C. Jones, the assistant coach. "We didn't have any supporting-role players. Everyone was used to starting and never adjusted to being a bench player."
Carr, usually very outspoken, said he would need a few days to gather his thoughts. But he did say this is a "pivotal time for this team, because we have the nucleus of a strong team that's been together for four years. But things were different this year, and I'm not sure if everyone will be back.
"The killer instinct that we had the last few years just wasn't there and there were a lot of things that went on this year that a number of us didn't like. But that's the way it goes."
The situation had deteriorated so much by Monday's game that, according to one player, Fitch held a meeting and told the team the news media "was driving a wedge between the players and between the players and management."
The Celtics took an seven-point lead early in Monday's game, but Marques Johnson, who had 33 points, scored 15 in the first quarter and Sidney Moncrief scored 13 of his 25 in the third period. In the second half, the Bucks did much as they pleased with the Celtics.
The conference final against the 76ers will begin Sunday at the Spectrum.
"I wish we'd be there," said Bird, "but we don't deserve it."