For five years, Jerry Sichting made the same futile trip.
There were the usual pregame chalk talks, the scrutiny of the opposition's likes and dislikes and then the trip out to the parquet floor for another pounding by the Celtics.
"You know going in there that you have to play a perfect game just to get a chance to win," Sichting said. "You just hope it will be this game. But in five years in the league, I never won once in Boston Garden."
The Pacers have trouble winning anywhere, which is one reason Sichting was not be with Indiana Wednesday night. He ended five fruitless years in middle America by signing as a free agent with the Celtics to bolster their backcourt and, perhaps, be measured for a championship ring.
Sichting had grown weary of losing. And lately, Indiana and losing have been interchangeable in the NBA.
"I was ready for a change, personally and professionally," he said Tuesday after practice. "Things had gotten stale. I didn't feel I was being disloyal to the Pacers. I busted my tail for five years, made a lot of personal appearances for them. But most of it was for nothing."
He did get noticed while serving time in NBA purgatory. Bill Fitch always liked Sichting. And Celtics player-personnel boss Jimmy Rodgers said Sichting was on the team's shopping list as soon as he became available.
"Over the last couple of years, we've held him in high esteem. He's a perfect guy to have coming off the bench," Rodgers said.
And in seven games this season, Sichting has been the first guard off the bench. After starting the season in a shooting slump, he has made 10 of his last 12 field goals, including 6 for 6 against Detroit on Saturday, while averaging 11.5 points in the two games.
He is shooting 54.8% from the field while playing an average of 17.7 minutes a game. And he is careful with the basketball, having committed only seven turnovers.
"He's much more comfortable on the offensive end now," Coach K.C. Jones said. "Everything else has been there since Day 1. He has been everything we thought he would be."
Sichting joined the Celtics as a free agent and that in itself is unusual. It's one thing to have designs on a free agent. It's another to bring those plans to fruition. Just ask the Knicks.
The Celtics tried to work out a straight trade with the Pacers, but Indiana wanted either an established player or a No. 1 pick in return. Boston was willing to part with two No. 2 picks, one of which they had gotten from Indiana for Quinn Buckner.
When the trade didn't work out, the Celtics signed Sichting to a four-year, $825,000 offer sheet. Three of the years are guaranteed and it is structured so Sichting actually is taking a pay cut from last year. It was a sacrifice he was more than eager to make.
Indiana talked defiantly of matching and extracting what it wanted from Boston. The Pacers even brought in free agent Dennis Johnson for a day. The Celtics yawned.
As the Clippers learned with Bill Walton, a player is willing to go the extra mile to play for the Celtics, whether it's keeping a deal alive or threatening not to play for his former club.
Sichting did just that. He told Indiana he was no longer interested in playing for them. And when the Pacers finally matched Boston's offer, Sichting refused to report to camp.
"My agent (George Andrews) said Indiana may have waited too long to match and that he was thinking of taking it to arbitration," Sichting said. "I had my heart set on coming to Boston and I told the Pacers I wasn't interested in coming back. They knew that. I still thought I had a chance to make the bubble burst, to upset them enough."
The bubble did burst. Indiana settled for what Boston first offered. And Sichting became a Celtic.
"It was a matter of him not really wanting to play with us," Coach George Irvine said.
Sichting did want to help Boston. But in the first five games, his strength--shooting--was out of sync. He was 7 for 19, missing a couple of easy baskets in the team's only defeat. In one game, he did not attempt a shot.
He was hesitant. He knew Boston's offense is designed to go to the big men up front. But the Celtics also are forced to kick the ball back out when teams try to double team the big men. And that's where players such as Sichting are supposed to make the other guys pay.
"I felt comfortable in those first few games, I just wasn't shooting it well," he said. "I hesitated too much. You try not to make mistakes and you get into the wrong rhythm."