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BOB RYAN

On second thought, a third

When you're wrong, you're wrong.

I should know.

Not long ago, I wrote about the constant misuse of the word "dynasty" as it applies to sports teams. In so doing, I declared there to be just two North American 20th century professional sports textbook "dynasties," by my own definition. They were, said I, the New York Yankees (1921-64) and the Montreal Canadiens (1943-93).

To borrow a famous phrase, what a stupid I am. There were three such dynasties, and exactly why I was unable, or unwilling, to connect the dots properly I cannot say. Sometimes you can stare at copy for three hours and not see what you should see, or see what isn't there. All writers know this (OK, OK, I'm whining and wallowing in self-pity).

So let's try it again. We had the New York Yankees, the Montreal Canadiens, and, duh, duh, duh, the Boston Celtics, whose 35 years of greatness from 1956 through 1991 clearly qualify.

As many people pointed out, 16 Celtics championships in 35 seasons equates very nicely with 20 Canadiens titles in 50. In fact, it's a significantly better percentage (.457-.400).

Guess I didn't want to seem like a homer.

Anyway, one problem I had was in not fairly evaluating the period from 1971-76, when the Celtics won two titles and compiled a .717 winning percentage (294-116). What makes my original dismissal of them even more inexplicable is they were my personal coming-of-age teams. Maybe I was trying to be too "objective," whatever that means.

There is a lot I can say about these teams (like, if only this year's Celtics team could run a tenth as well as that one did). But how about starting with this? They truly hated to lose. Sure, that sounds cliche-ish, but in this case, it happens to be true. They could not even comprehend the idea of losing ever being a habit. As proof, I cite the following statistic: In between losses at Los Angeles on Feb. 20, 1972, and home against Philadelphia on Nov. 11, 1975, the Celtics never lost three in a row. That's a span of 270 games, and that's a lot of not losing.

One night they were playing in Buffalo. This was the peak of the Bob McAdoo-Ernie D-Randy Smith era, and the Braves were a great Boston rival. "How many are out there?" inquired Paul Silas. (Yes, kiddies, that's the same Paul Silas who's coaching your man LeBron right now.)

"At least 18,000," I told him. "They're expecting to break a record here."

"Good," smiled Silas. "We're gonna send 'em all home unhappy."

And they did.

The 1971-72 Celtics won 56 games and made the playoffs for the first time since the 1969 retirement of Bill Russell. They just weren't quite ready to take the Knicks, and lost their playoff series in five games. Red Auerbach knew he needed one more player, and, specifically, that player had to be someone who could neutralize Dave DeBusschere. He had the Knicks covered at every other position (i.e. Cowens-Reed, Havlicek-Bradley, Chaney-Frazier, White-Monroe). And so Paul Silas became a Celtic.

With Silas in the lineup, the Celtics went 68-14 in 1972-73 and got off to a 29-7 start the following season. That's 97-21. Not bad.

They didn't win the title in 1973 because John Havlicek injured his shoulder during the third game of the Eastern Conference finals against the Knicks. New York eventually won in seven games, but were easily dismissed by the Lakers in the Finals. Pity. The Celtics were 4-0 with the Lakers that season. An aging Wilt Chamberlain had no idea what to do with Dave Cowens, who averaged 31 points and 19 rebounds a game against him that season.

But the Celtics did win it all the following year, beating Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and the Milwaukee Bucks in a strange seven-game series in which the last four games were won by the road team. Oh, that's another thing. The 1974-75 Celtics were 32-9 on the road. Roll those figures around in your head for a while.

They didn't win, either, blowing the first game of the conference finals at home to the Capital (i.e. Washington) Bullets, and never recovering. Now we're up to two might-have-beens in three years. (Full disclosure compels me to note that the Celtics were 1-3 that season against the champion Golden State Warriors.)

By the 1975-76 season, Havlicek and Don Nelson were each 35, but Havlicek was Havlicek and Nellie was coming off a year in which he had led the league in field goal percentage (.539, with about 420 of his 423 field goals being 15-foot jumpers). Cowens and Silas were still feisty, and the backcourt of Jo Jo White and Charlie Scott (obtained in exchange for Paul Westphal) was formidable. The team had its troubles, but when the playoffs came, it was ready. Scott came up big in the three sixth games the Celtics played, and Boston came away with championship No. 13.

So throw those two titles and those 294 wins and that .717 winning percentage and those 270 games without losing three in a row in the hopper along with the 11 titles in 13 years won by the Russell teams and the three championships in six years won by the Larry Bird teams and that adds up to 16 titles from 1957 through 1986.

Mix in the average of 53 wins a year (including one loss in the Finals and one loss in the Eastern Conference finals) during the final six years Bird was able to play, and that all adds up to 16 championships, three losses in the Finals, and an average of 56 wins a year over a 35-year span, which would most certainly rate as a dynasty.

So I'm 'fessin' up: I messed up. And you must admit it's been a lot more pleasant reading about those teams than it is watching this one.

Bob Ryan is a Globe columnist. His e-mail address is ryan@globe.com.

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