Bird’s Rookie Year — Game 11 vs. the Spurs

Celtics vs. Spurs
November 7, 1979
Boston Garden

After a grueling six game road trip, the Celtics returned home for a rematch with San Antonio.  The two teams last met on October 23 at the HemisFair Arena as the Spurs picked up a 129-120 victory.  Five Spurs recorded double-digits in points in the win, and George Gervin dominated with 28 points in only 31 minutes.  Though the Celtics had some highlights (Tiny Archibald distributed 19 assists), they allowed 30 points in the first quarter alone and a combined 65 in the second half.  Points in the paint were the key issue in San Antonio: the Spurs scored 20 points off their 16 offensive rebounds, while the Celtics managed only 8 points off 6 O-boards.  Even with Tiny collecting 19 assists, the Celtics as a team finished with 36; San Antonio, to their credit, finished with 34.

This night in Boston 33 years ago would turn out much differently.  After dominating the Celtics with 19 points and 10 rebounds in the first affair, Mark Olberding was held to just 7 points and 4 assists.  Gervin still managed to score, finishing with 29 points, but he only shot 9-for-24.  The Celtics jumped out to a lead of their own this time, dropping 38 points in the first on an overwhelmed Spurs (7-6) team and running away with a 117-105 victory to extend the C’s (9-2) winning streak to five.

Larry Bird and Chris Ford both finished with 18 points, M.L. Carr pumped in 25 points off the bench in only 28 minutes, and Cedric Maxwell ended the night with 17 points (and shot 83% from the field as he continued to lead the league in field goal percentage).  The Celtics out-rebounded the Spurs, 46-38, and dominated the passing game with 18 more assists (and only three more turnovers).  One man in particular was responsible for that disparity.

The capacity crowd of 15,320 watched as Archibald dazzled again, this time by scoring 15 points and dealing 17 assists — but only allowing 2 turnovers.  Tiny, who was acquired in a 7-player trade on August 4, 1978, became the NBA’s first player in the ’72-’73 season to lead the league in both scoring and assists (34 points and a shade over 11 assists).  The Celtics media guide, offering some prescient words, stated Tiny possessed “exceptional quickness and speed, along with his inside and outside firepower, which make him virtually unstoppable when controlling the ball.”

The Celtics acquired Nate “Tiny” Archibald in a 7-player trade with the San Diego Clippers which sent Archibald, Marvin Barnes, Billy Knight to Boston for Kevin Kunnert, Kermit Washinghton, Sidney Wicks, and Freeman Williams. The Celtics also netted two draft picks in the trade, one of which was used to draft Danny Ainge.

The NBA.com’s Legends profile on Archibald expanded on Tiny’s arrival — and early struggles — in Boston:

The transition to Celtics Green was anything but smooth. Archibald was 20 pounds overweight after the layoff, his play was slow and clumsy and his role was ill-defined. He had difficulty playing alongside Jo Jo White, and he carried on a running public feud with player-coach Dave Cowens over playing time. The once glorious Celtics struggled to a 29-53 record.

After the 1978-79 season rumors of Archibald’s exit abounded. “The sad part,” one NBA general manager told Sport magazine in 1980, “is that I’m not sure anyone would have taken Tiny. Heck, he was 30 years old, had a bad reputation and a huge contract. He seemed to have lost his game.” Archibald, it appeared, was finished.

As the press prepared Archibald’s basketball obituary, the Celtics were busy assembling the ingredients for a return to greatness. Under new owner Harry Mangurian and new coach Bill Fitch, the team boasted rookie Larry Bird, fiery sixth man M.L. Carr and a rejuvenated Cowens at center. All the Celts lacked was someone to run the team on the floor.

Meanwhile, back in the South Bronx, where Archibald returned each summer to help and counsel troubled youngsters, Tiny was drawing on an unlikely source of inspiration on the Patterson playgrounds.

“Here I was,” Archibald recalled, “coming off the most frustrating year of my career, and it was the kids who were counseling me. They kept saying, ‘Don’t worry, Tiny. Don’t get down. You can do it. The Celtics need you.’ I’ll never forget them for that.”

Archibald returned to Boston for the 1979-80 season in a far different role. The Celtics didn’t need him to score as he had on the Cincinnati and Kansas City-Omaha teams of the early 1970s — they had Bird, Cowens and Cedric “Cornbread” Maxwell for that. So Archibald emerged not as the flashy scorer of old but as a controlled, efficient playmaker, running the offense like a general.

While Tiny and the Celtics remained undefeated at the Garden, the 76ers were also busy at the Spectrum.  Philadelphia won their third game in a row to maintain the first place lead in the Atlantic at 11-2.  The two teams would finally meet on Saturday, November 10.  In the meantime, the Celtics would square off against Scott Wedman’s Kansas City Kings on Friday night at the Garden.

About Justin Barrasso

Justin Barrasso has worked in the Boston sports scene in various different capacities since 2001, including writing for the Boston Herald and WEEI.com.

  • http://twitter.com/DryHeave1 DryHeave

    have MUCH respect for Larry Bird….just more of a hockey fan. Would like a recap of Bobby Orr’s rookie year more.