We’re always looking to add to the site here at BSMW, and I am hopeful you enjoy this new feature. Justin Barrasso will be perusing the box scores of the Boston Celtics during the Larry Bird years, starting with Bird’s rookie year in 1979-1980. The opportunity to reconnect with the Bird era is always fun, especially during his early years in the league. We’ll be posting the box score as well as some commentary each game day as we re-visit the ’79-’80 season. Enjoy.
Celtics (3-0) vs. Bullets (1-2)
Friday, October 19
The Celtics, wrapping up a brief two game homestand (and having played three of their opening four at the Garden), faced off against the Washington Bullets on this Friday night thirty-three years ago on 150 Causeway Street.
The Bullets were among the finalists for the Eastern Conference’s Team of the Decade in the ‘70s, appearing in four NBA Finals and winning one. They won the East (as Baltimore) in ’71, then again as Washington in ’75. Washington broke through and won the championship in ’78, but lost in a Finals rematch to the Super Sonics in ’79.
The Bullets were coached by K.C. Jones during their first three years after leaving Baltimore (they were the Capital Bullets in ’73, but officially Washington in ’74). K.C. Jones, who won a combined twelve NBA titles as a player and coach (along with two NCAA championships and an Olympic gold medal), took the Bullets coaching job in 1973.
He coached the team for three successful seasons, compiling a 155-91 record (good enough for best in the league) over those three seasons. The Bullets couldn’t seal the deal and win a title in that stretch, and Jones was the man held accountable. Swept away by Rick Barry’s Golden State Warriors in the ’75 Finals, the Bullets then dropped a seven game series to Bill Fitch’s Cavs a year later in the Eastern Semis. Jones was fired after that ’76 season and returned to Boston as the lead assistant for Satch Sanders and then Bill Fitch.
[For another example of how dramatically the NBA has evolved in the past three decades, here is this piece of information from the linked Rick Barry/SI story:
Washington had gambled on the playoff schedule, but even that didn't seem to matter. The original setup called for the first two games to be played in Washington, the next two in Oakland and the remaining games to be alternated. Then it was discovered that the Ice Follies had first call in the Oakland Coliseum and that the Warriors couldn't play the fourth game in the Cow Palace, their alternate site, because of a karate championship.
Hard to imagine that taking place today...]
Along the way, though, the Bullets racked up plenty of wins against the Celtics. Up to this point, Washington had a record of 33-21 against the Celtics in the ‘70s, including sending the Celtics home in ‘75 with a six game playoff defeat. Entering the ’79-’80 season, the Bullets had won 11 of the last 12 against the Celtics and were coming off a 26-point shellacking of the Celtics in the spring of 1979.
Larry Bird, however, clearly wasn’t impressed with the Bullets’ resume while he was at Indiana State. Neither, for that matter, were any of Bill Fitch’s Celtics. The Celtics staked out an 18-point lead by halftime, and cruised to a 37-point victory, 130-93, that saw eight Celtics score in double-digits. Fitch played his starters (the same starting five as it had been the first three games with Archibald, Ford, Bird, Maxwell, and Cowens) the lion’s share of the minutes, but worked in M.L. Carr (17 points, 8 boards) and Gerald Henderson (14 points, 3 assists). The Celtics finished 1-4 from 3-point land, while Washington really capitalized on the new shot and hit 3-of-4. Dave Cowens represented the high scorer for the Celtics, finishing a very efficient 9-for-11 to finish with 20 points and 10 defensive rebounds. Hall of Famer Elvin Hayes led all scorers with 23 points, but a deeper look at the box score reveals he only shot 36% from the field and needed 25 looks to get to 23 points (somewhere, Kobe Bryant nods). The C’s also dominated the boards, winning the rebound battle, 60-41. Sold-out with a capacity crowd of 15,320, the Garden faithful watched the game finish within an hour and fifty-three minutes (though you could argue it was over a lot sooner).
Unfortunately for the Celtics, the Garden was busy in the fall of 1979. The C’s weren’t scheduled for another home game until November 7. In the meantime, they left that night to travel to Indiana for their second back-to-back of the season, which was only the beginning of a very challenging six game road trip.