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D.J.'s sweetest music

Posted by Chad Finn, Globe Staff  February 1, 2011 01:35 PM

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1985celtsfinn.jpgJust a quick link here to a fun (well, for me; I suppose it could be excruciating for you) thing me and my Boston.com colleagues pulled together in acknowledgment of a promotion the Celtics are running asking fans to tell them about their favorite game.

In our little three-pointer about our favorite games, Steve Silva chose the legendary and wild Game 5 of the 1976 Finals between the Celtics and Suns. Resident Celtics guru Gary Dzen went with, let's see, I believe it's formally called Ray Allen Makes Sasha Vujacic Cry. And I went with Bird's steal and feed to DJ for the winning bucket in Game 5 of the '87 Eastern Conference Finals against the loathsome Pistons.

Three games, three eras in Celtics history -- if only we'd had Bob Ryan throw some Bill Russell wisdom our way, we'd be complete. As much as admire the current Celtics -- and I'm only slightly exaggerating when I say I might trade the rights to a fourth Lombardi Trophy for the Pats and a Red Sox World Series title to be named later for the chance to see KG, Pierce, Allen, Rondo, Perk, and Shaq slay the Lakers this year -- I consider myself blessed as a sports fan to have been able to watch the '80s Celtics a couple of nights a week on SportsChannel throughout my youth.

Larry requires no further explanation -- he was a legend and a god, and that's presuming there are other legends and gods who could throw blind over-the-shoulder passes to a cutting big man. I dreamed of (and worked hopelessly toward) having McHale's post moves, which is funny, because all these years later, all I have left is the Chief's shuffle-the-feet baseline jumper. I admired the range of Ainge, Max's close-range radar, and later, Bill Walton's joyous mastery of the game's geometry, from always boxing out to his unparalleled post passing to throwing those quick and accurate outlet passes.

JohnsonDennisfinn.jpgBut my favorite Celtic of that era was D.J., Dennis Johnson, and that includes Larry. As Bob Ryan has testified in print on D.J.'s behalf many times, particularly when he was shamefully shortchanged by the Hall of Fame for a couple of years, there has never been a player who resembled him, and we're not just talking about that weird freckles-and-red-hair combo.

With his deceptive athleticism (he didn't look the part in his Celtics years, but he was an outstanding shot blocker for a guard), defensive toughness and intelligence (Doc Rivers still insists he knew the dead spots on the Garden floor and used them to his advantage for late-game steals), and his knack for nailing the big shot, he was the perfect complement not only to Bird, but to Ainge in the backcourt.

Like Rajon Rondo, he could be a royal-pain-in-the-enigma -- sometimes he just wasn't interested in going all-out in that late February game in Sacramento, and the rest of the Celtics knew to account for that. But to watch him on a consistent basis was to admire his game and his guts unabashedly. And I did. Much to my mom's chagrin, one of those caricature t-shirts that were popular in the late '80s worked its way into my regular school-clothes rotation when I was a sophomore in high school in '86. Kinda wish I still had it, though I suspect it would look like a sausage casing on me now.

Anyway, I'm getting carried away for what's supposed to be a two-line link here. It's just that it's always nice to reminisce about those Celtics, particularly the late, great D.J., who passed away before he got his due in Springfield. I'm glad I got to do so here, as well as on our Best Games project today.

About Touching All The Bases

Irreverence and insight from Chad Finn, a Globe/Boston.com sports writer and media columnist. A winner of several national and regional writing awards, he is the founder and sole contributor to the TATB blog, which launched in December 2004. Yes, he realizes how lucky he is.

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