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The Boston Celtics pulled off a stunner of a trade with the Golden State Warriors right before the 1980 NBA Draft. The move brought in veteran center Robert Parish and a rookie in Kevin McHale. In their first year with the Celtics, they captured the first of three championships in the decade.

In the next two years, however, they failed to reach the championship round. During the 1983 playoffs, the Milwaukee Bucks sent the Celtics home with an embarrassing four-game sweep in the conference semifinals. While the players were stunned and disappointed, it may have been just what they needed.

The Boston Celtics quickly got tired of head coach Bill Fitch

Bill Fitch was tough. According to several of his former players, he ran a tight ship. It may have worked when players were young, but his coaching style didn’t sit well with veteran players.

“We lost to the Bucks in four (in 1983), but to be honest, any team in the playoffs that year could have beat us in four games,” Carr once told Michael D. McClellan of Celtic Nation. “To be quite frank, we came to the conclusion, as a team, that it was time for our coach to go. I make no bones about that. 

“Bill Fitch was a very good coach, but he was also very strict, and he couldn’t loosen up the reins after we became more of a veteran team.  He still wanted to control everything, and he wanted to beat you down over everything, and it eventually wore thin with the team.  And I’ll be honest with you — if we were properly motivated, there was no way in the world we would have lost for games to the Milwaukee Bucks that year.”

Parish recalled Fitch being tough. When the center came to Boston in that trade with the Warriors, Fitch wore him out. Parish said the coach was tough, but he was tough on everyone.

“I will say this about Coach Fitch,” Parish was quoted as saying in Cedric Maxwell’s book If These Walls Could Talk. “He was an a**hole to everybody across the board. I respect that because he was like the father you could not please, and he didn’t show preferential treatment to anyone.”

Fitch left the Celtics after the loss to the Bucks


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While the Celtics were embarrassed by the Bucks, the Celtics did not fire Fitch after the season. Instead, he resigned. According to The New York Times, he claimed he left because the team was being sold. He also said the expected departure of GM Red Auerbach played a role in his leaving.

Fitch may have bolted before the Celtics got to him first. A sweep in the conference semis wasn’t a good look. That, combined with Fitch losing his players, may have resulted in a coaching change anyway.

Danny Ainge, who clashed with Fitch in his first year with the team, remembered the players thinking there might be a silver lining to the sweep.

“I remember we were down,” Ainge was quoted in Maxwell’s book. “And some of the players on the team were saying, ‘Well, the good news is if we lose this series, we won’t have to listen to him anymore.’ I think Kevin even made a comment in the papers about his free-agency status could be determined by whether Fitch was back or not.”

When Fitch left, the Celtics turned to K.C. Jones, a former Celtics player and eight-time champion. Under Jones, the Celtics won the NBA title the following year and added another championship in 1986. Boston reached the NBA Finals in Jones’ first four years as head coach.