Jason Terry and 5 Other Great Sixth Men in Celtics History

Chris Lawrence@@C_law90Featured ColumnistSeptember 5, 2012

Jason Terry and 5 Other Great Sixth Men in Celtics History

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    When the Boston Celtics signed former Dallas Mavericks guard Jason Terry back in July, Celtics Nation let out a collective sigh of relief. The one-time NBA Sixth Man of the Year was a welcome addition to a team that has struggled mightily to find consistent offensive production off the bench in recent seasons. 

    It's been a long time since this team has had a true scorer on its second unit—someone who can shoulder the offensive load and consistently carry a lineup for stretches at a time.

    Even when the Celtics won their 17th NBA Championship in 2008, their bench operated more by committee. With solid rotation players James Posey, Eddie House, Glen Davis, Leon Powe, P.J. Brown and Sam Cassell duking it out against opposing teams and putting together some spectacular performances.

    That was a great group of guys that GM Danny Ainge was able to cobble together, especially since the contracts of Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce and Ray Allen didn't allow much in the way of cap space to go after another top-shelf talent to fill the role of sixth man.

    But the Celtics teams of old seemingly always had a major player coming off the pine. Terry, who will certainly be supplying his new team with plenty of offensive firepower and energy this upcoming season, could be in extraordinary company if he helps raise banner No. 18.

Frank Ramsey, G/F, 1954-1964

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    Legendary Celtics swingman Frank Ramsey found himself in a unique position as a young talent out of the University of Kentucky when he joined the Celtics in 1954.

    Ramsey seldom found his way into the starting lineup, which already had a backcourt of Bob Cousy and Bill Sharman, both of whom were solidified stars in their respective primes.

    But Celtics coach Red Auerbach knew how to manage his players, and integrating someone with Ramsey's talent and potential into a lineup that already included Sharman, Cousy, and, in later years, Bill Russell, K.C. Jones, Tommy Heinsohn and Sam Jones, was not going to deter the team's success.

    So Auerbach—most likely taking a few puffs from his ubiquitous cigar—came up with a wild idea: Have Ramsey play a major role off the bench.

    At the time, the concept of the sixth man was unheard of—the best players started the game and played the majority of the minutes, while the second unit served to spell them for a few minutes here and there.

    Ramsey is not only hailed as one of the greatest sixth men ever, but Auerbach is credited with creating the concept.

    The future Hall-of-Famer embraced his revolutionary role. Over a career that spanned nine seasons, Ramsey averaged 13.4 points and 5.5 rebounds per game.

    Those may seem like modest numbers for a Hall-of-Fame caliber player, but Ramsey had a knack for providing the Celtics with an offensive spark when they needed it most.

    For instance, in the 1959 postseason, Ramsey averaged 23.2 points per game—well before the integration of the three-point shot—and led the franchise to its second championship.

    All statistics aside, Ramsey was a scrappy player with a well-rounded game.

    He consistently found ways to contribute through his crafty ball handling, clutch shooting and breakneck hustle.

    Though Ramsey was never a fixture in the Celtics starting lineup, he saw regular minutes during crunch time.

    When it was all said and done, Ramsey's tenure saw the rise of seven championship banners and the inception of a now vital role to any team's success.

John Havlicek, G/F, 1962-1978

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    In Ramsey's wake, swingman John Havlicek further popularized the role of the sixth man. But Havlicek was not just the Celtics sixth man for the first seven years of his 16-year career; he was the man.

    Undoubtedly one of the premier players of his era and one of the greatest in NBA history, "Hondo" amassed an astonishing 26,395 career points (20.8 per game)—good for 12th all-time and first in Celtics history.

    The dynamic Havlicek also averaged 6.3 rebounds and 4.8 assists per game, showing that he was more than just a scoring machine.

    However, the 6'5", 200-pound Havlicek may have been more well-known for his intangible attributes, the stuff of legends that cannot be measured by the boxscore.

    His tenacity and ferocity on both ends of floor, paired with his boundless endurance and gritty attitude, as well as his ability to play both guard and forward made him a nightmare for opposing defenses.

    The eight-time NBA Champion and 13-time All-Star also had a knack for being a clutch performer.

    A 43.9 percent shooter for his career, Havlicek had the ability to score in large bursts and hit shots when the game was on the line.

    But the most memorable play of his career didn't come on the offensive end.

    The play is well-documented in NBA history, and even the youngest Celtics fans have seen it played countless times on television and on the Jumbotron at Celtics home games.

    In Game 7 of the 1965 Eastern Conference Finals, the Celtics had a 110-109 lead on the Philadelphia 76ers. After an unfortunate turnover by Bill Russell with only seconds left to play, the 76ers had a chance to win the game.

    Fortunately, for the Celtics, Havlicek wasn't going down without a fight.

    Havlicek, in dramatic fashion, spun around and leaped to tip Hal Greer's inbound pass to teammate Sam Jones, who dribbled out the clock.

    Legendary commentator Johnny Most then made the most famous calls of his career: "Havlicek steals it! Over to Sam Jones! Havlicek stole the ball!"

    No sixth man has had the career of Havlicek.

    He didn't need to be in the starting lineup in order to be a factor. He didn't go chasing the game, he let the game come to him—and that is the mantra of the sixth man.

Don Nelson, F, 1965-1976

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    Don Nelson has the most wins as an NBA coach with 1,335 victories to his credit. Nelson also played in the NBA for 14 seasons—11 with the Celtics—before retiring in 1976. 

    Once John Havlicek was moved into the starting lineup, he bequeathed his sixth man role to Nelson.

    Though Nelson may not have had Havlicek's propensity for scoring, he possessed one of most fundamental attributes a sixth man could have: consistency.

    Nelson averaged at least 10 points per game in 9 nine of his 11 seasons with Celtics. He even continued to produce during the twilight of his career, averaging 14 points per game during his second-to-last NBA season in 1974-1975—his career best was 15.4 points per game during the 1969-1970 season.

    As customary with any Celtics player from the 1960's and 1970's, Nelson possessed a bounty of championships, winning five in total with the team—and he, like Havlicek and Ramsey before him, has the hardware to prove it.

    Though Nelson may not be a Hall-of-Fame caliber player, he is without a doubt a Hall-of-fame coach. That being said, Nelson was a player whose cogent consistency and hard-nosed effort had a direct impact on the Celtics' championship success.

    It's safe to say that those very attributes shaped him into a prolific coach, as he was able to impart them to players such has Dirk Nowitzki, Steve Nash and—you guessed it—Jason Terry during his tenure as head coach of the Dallas Mavericks.

Kevin McHale, F, 1980-1993

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    One of the greatest forwards to play the game, McHale spent nine of his 13 NBA seasons coming off the bench.

    McHale was a member of three championship title squads and is a two-time winner of the NBA Sixth Man of the Year Award. Like other great Celtics sixth men, McHale embraced his role and expanded on the nuance added to it by his predecessors.

    Complimented by legendary big man Robert Parish and crafty forward Larry Bird, McHale was one third of the original Big 3, the most daunting frontcourt of all-time.

    With career averages of 17.9 points and 7.3 rebounds on 55 percent shooting, McHale was a tough presence in the post. Though not a great athlete, McHale fought hard for rebounds and gave opposing players fits on defense.

    He also possessed a repertoire of sweeping post moves and a knack for sealing off defenders and creating enough space to get high-percentage shots. He was an incredibly efficient shooter—currently 14th all-time in field goal percentage.

    McHale's finesse did not take away from his ferocity—it fueled it.

    A true competitor, the 6'10" power forward was a maximum effort type of player.

    McHale wasted no time in making an impact with the Celtics.

    In his rookie year, he was a solid contributor off the bench in the Celtics' 1981 championship run, averaging 10 points and 4.4 rebounds per game on 53 percent shooting.

    In 1984, he ratcheted up his performance to the tune of 18.4 points and 7.4 rebounds on 55.6 percent shooting; helping the team capture its 15th championship.

    McHale's burgeoning success led to his insertion into the starting lineup in the 1985-1986 season, when he helped the franchise to another title. McHale adjusted quickly to the role, leading the NBA in field goal percentage in 1987 and 1988. He also averaged a career best 26.1 points per game in 1987.

    After four seasons as a starter, McHale returned to the bench in 1990. He averaged 20.9 points per game, showing that it didn't matter what role he played.

    McHale retired in 1993 as a three-time NBA Champion, a seven-time NBA All-Star, a three-time member of the NBA All-Defensive First Team and a Hall-of-Famer.

    A player who truly epitomizes the legacy of Boston Celtics basketball, Kevin McHale is yet another example of how important a sixth man is to a championship contender.

Bill Walton, C, 1985-1987

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    The energetic and always entertaining Bill Walton was a key cog in the Celtics' 1986 title run.

    Taking over the role that Kevin McHale held before he was promoted to the starting lineup, Walton provided the team with a great spark off the bench.

    Walton won the Sixth Man of the Year Award in the 1986 championship season, becoming the second Celtics player to win the award and just the third player all-time to do so—Kevin McHale won it in 1984 and 1985.

    Walton was not a regular contributor on the offensive end, as he only averaged 7.6 points per game that season. But his rebounding and shot blocking proved to be vital to the Celtics' success.

    The bottom line: He served as a great backup to Robert Parish and received big minutes in crucial situations. 

    Walton's energy and competitive edge balanced nicely with his unbridled enthusiasm and genuine love for the game of basketball and the Boston Celtics franchise. He was a great locker room presence and embraced his role with the team.

    Bill Walton is just one of those guys who you can't help but love. As a player, he was a hard worker who fought through numerous injuries that limited his career longevity and success.

    In his prime, Walton was a two-time NBA All-Star as a member of the Portland Trailblazers and was the NBA Finals MVP in 1977 and the NBA MVP in 1978. He is the only player in NBA history to win the Sixth Man of the Year Award, the NBA Finals MVP and the NBA MVP.

    Though marred by injuries for much of his career, Walton occupies a memorable place in Celtics history as one of the franchise's key contributors from the bench.

Jason Terry, G, 2012-

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    Though Terry has yet to play a game for the Celtics, his arrival signals the return of the true sixth man to Boston. Terry was the Dallas Mavericks' first option off the bench for his eight seasons there and thrived as a pure scorer who can play both guard positions.

    Terry also possess something virtually no one on the Celtics, aside from Paul Pierce and Rajon Rondo, could do last season: He can create his own shot.

    Whether he's spelling Rondo at the point or running alongside him in the backcourt, Terry can be leaned on to score.

    With Terry in the lineup, Celtics fans can rest assured that the second unit will be able to hold its own against opposing teams.

    Over the past three season seasons, the Celtics have been marred by stagnant offense in crucial parts of games.

    Terry's scoring prowess ensures that the same animal that ate the Celtics alive during last season's Eastern Conference Finals against the Miami Heat—aside from LeBron James' beast-like nature—won't be their downfall this season.

    Though Celtics Nation may still be reeling from Ray Allen's departure, Jason Terry is more than a great consolation prize. A player who can average 15 points per game from the bench is exactly what this team needs to augment its championship prospects.

    Perhaps what I like most about Terry, aside from his sheer confidence (i.e. getting a tattoo of the Larry O'Brien Trophy on his arm and then actually winning it a year later; then proceeding to get another tattoo once he joined the Celtics) is his durability.

    Though nearly 35 years old and heading for his 14th season, Terry has only missed 28 games. His production remains consistent, as he has averaged at least 15 points per game in each of the last eight seasons.

    If Jason Terry can help the Boston Celtics to their 18th title, he too will be heralded as yet another great Celtics sixth man.


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    The sixth man is an elusive role. Not every NBA team is fortunate enough to have one, and one could say that the Celtics have been spoiled because they have had some of the best.

    That being said, not every player can handle coming off the bench.

    There are those who, for whatever reason, have to be in the starting lineup in order to get themselves into the flow of the game, and that's fine.

    But the players who are able to put all the routine and stability that the starting lineup offers aside for the betterment of the team and remain productive—the ones who aren't afraid to plunge themselves full-heartedly into the chaos and uncertainty of a bench role—are the x-factors of NBA basketball.

    Players like Frank Ramsey, John Havlicek, Don Nelson, Kevin McHale, Bill Walton and Jason Terry never needed to hear their names called before tip-off. Some of them were starters at times in their careers, which is a testament to their flexibility. They do whatever is asked of them and fill whatever role they can. This is why the sixth man is so crucial to the game.

    For the Boston Celtics, as history has shown, the right player in that role has put them over the top. The same could hold true for Terry, and this year's new and improved Celtics squad.

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