In Memoriam: The 1991 Boston Celtics


Now that the excitement of the LeBronathon Offseason is complete, Double Dribble has the time to work on some pet projects that have been back-burnered for too long. One of those projects is remembering the greatness of teams that meant something to us, what was and what might have been.

1991 Boston Celtics


With the retirement of head coach KC Jones and the coming of coach Jimmy Rogers, the Dynasty of the Big Three suffered a significant drop off. in 1989 Larry Bird missed all but 6 games, Danny Ainge left for Sacramento, and the Celtics won just 42 games and failed to make the Eastern Conference Finals for the first time since 1983. In 1990 Bird was able to play 75 of 82 games, and Reggie Lewis stepped up and filled the void left by Ainge. The team won 10 more games but once again flamed out in the first round, this time against an upstart Knicks team.

In 1991 Rodgers was replaced with new head coach Chris Ford, who instilled a new system and put the team back in contention. Contention? Absolutely, the team won 56 games, good for 1st in their division, 2nd in their conference, and 4th best overall. Moreover, they were on pace to win 62 games (good for first in the East and 2nd overall) before Larry Bird’s ailing back betrayed them and ruined their offense – not to mention their playoff hopes.

The team was very fun to watch, an amalgam of diverse talents well-meshed by Ford and orchestrated by Larry Bird. They were a good defensive team that turned their strong rebounding presence up front in Larry Bird, Robert Parish, Kevin McHale and Joe Klein into a fantastic fastbreak with their young athletes Reggie Lewis, Dee Brown, Ed Pinckney, Kevin Gamble, and Brian Shaw.

Only 3 guards played major minutes, Shaw, a big, multi-skilled combo-point in the mold of Doc Rivers recently back in the NBA after a stint in Europe. Dee Brown, an athletic wing in a point guard’s body best known for winning the ’91 dunk contest in his Reebok Pumps. And of course Reggie Lewis, a 5th year swingman coming into his own as the Big Three went into decline. Reggie had the total package – athletic finishes, great one on one scoring, catch and shoot ability with three point range (which at the time simply being able to hit a three every once in while is all that a team asked), and very good one on one defensive skills.

The lack of depth at the shooting guard positions was offset by the sweet-shooting Kevin Gamble, who played a lot like a bigger Rip Hamilton, not a great handle, but absolute money from anywhere inside in the three point line and great at making reads and finding open spaces. The lack of depth at the playmaker position was offset by Larry Bird, the best passing forward of all time, bar none, no it isn’t even close. When the team failed to get their fastbreak underway, their first option was to give Larry the ball at the top of the key or the elbow and allow him to make decisions. Larry was playing power forward at the time, so positioning him so far the rim really opened up the defense for his teammates to make good cuts and find post position.

The team began the season starting Bird at the 3 next to Ed Pinckney at the 4 and Parish at the 5, but they quickly learned that Ed’s lack of offense and Larry’s lack of mobility on defense hurt them at both ends. Moving Pickney to the bench, behind McHale, put him against weaker competition where his raw size and athleticism were true assets. All their lineups held terrific post scorers and shotblockers as Parish, McHale, Bird, and / or Pinckney were always on the floor – with Joe Klein and Stojko Vrankovik coming in if somebody needed a little rouging up.

The team was complete and entertaining, but they were highly reliant on Bird’s defensive rebounding, outlet passing, and half-court savvy. As his health deteriorated, so did their chances for playoff success. A weaker Indiana Pacers team dragged the Celtics through a grueling 5 game series culminating in a Larry Bird performance for the ages in the finale.

The team managed to take the defending champion Pistons to 6 games in the conference semi-finals, but Bird’s shooting touch was gone with his back injury stiffening him up, and Robert Parish suffered an injury in game 5 that limited him to 12 minutes in that game and took him out of game 6 entirely. Given that both of those games were within 5 points at the end, it’s reasonable to think that a healthy Celtics team could have won both and moved on to face the Bulls in the conference finals. While it’s not a great measure of playoff success, Boston did split the season series against Chicago in the regular season. And that makes them a contender in my eyes.


17 Responses to “In Memoriam: The 1991 Boston Celtics”

  1. Bird On Basketball: How-to Strategies From The Great Celtics Champion | Team Sport Guide Says:

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  2. Spalding Boston Celtics NBA Team Basketball – Green | Team Sport Guide Says:

    […] In Memoriam: The 1991 Boston Celtics « Double Dribble […]

  3. High Above Courtside Says:

    What the ………………..

  4. m Says:

    This article is awesome. Great analysis. I remember this team. Forgotten rings? Been watching a lot of 80’s-90’s Celtics on NBA network. I think I appreciate the 80’s C’s teams to a new degree now, actually understanding a little better the unique style of offensive basketball they played.

    • jpalumbo Says:

      Thank you very much. Yeah, the ’80s Celtics really had a cerebral approach that leveraged the big man chemistry in a way you rarely see.

  5. Chris Poulin Says:

    The 1991 Celtics are my favorite team (that I actually watched) of all-time. Yeah, more than the 2008 team. Great article man.

    check out this page:

    • jpalumbo Says:

      Nice page!

      • Chris Poulin Says:

        Thanks. I plan on adding things to it often – trying to keep Reggie’s memory alive. I love Bird, and respect the classic stars, but other than Larry, Reg was my favorite player. And I could identify more with him as a person. There are many websites and Facebook pages dedicated to Larry, MJ, Magic, etc… I thought Reggie deserved one that was updated often too. People are encouraged to put their memories of him on the page.

        If you don’t mind, could you ‘Like’ that page? And could you let your family and friends that liked Reggie and great 80’s/90’s NBA know about it too? The more Likes the page gets, there will be more people that see it, and hopefully it will keep growing. I’d like to see it reach 1,000 likes someday. Thanks.

        Just curious, how old are you? I’m 35 – I’m guessing you might be around the same age or a bit older to have such great memories of that team in particular.

      • jpalumbo Says:

        I immediately liked the page and will forward to my friends from New England.

        I’m also 35. I grew up in ME but was infatuated with Jordan at a young age (’88 dunk contest). Still in my all time favorite players list Larry, Reggie, McHale, Parish and even Dee rank near the top.

        Jason Palumbo

        Sent from my iPhone

  6. Chris Poulin Says:

    Thanks for liking the page. It’s weird, sometimes the # of likes doesn’t update immediately. & Thanks for forwarding the page.

    What part of Maine are you from? I grew up in Sanford, now I live just outside of Bangor.

    Of course Jordan is awesome too. I liked him until 93 probably. I used to root against him in the postseason (pulled for them against LA in 91 of course), I got tired of him winning all the time. Since he retired from the Bulls the second time, my appreciation for him keeps growing.

  7. Chris Poulin Says:


  8. Chris Poulin Says:

    a cool 91 Celtics link:

  9. Chris Poulin Says:

    jpalumbo, do you play NBA 2k15 by chance? I have it for the PS3 and I’ve uploaded this Celtics team to 2KShare! Well, it’s mostly the 1991 team, but I left off a few bums that didn’t really play (Popson, Wynder, Derek and Charles Smith) and added Rick Fox, Sherman Douglas, Rickey Green and John Bagley from the 1992 team.

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