Bird’s Rookie Year — Game 14 vs. the Pistons

Celtics vs. Pistons
November 14, 1979
Boston Garden

An otherwise ordinary night in the history of the Boston Celtics was transformed by three major events.

First, Detroit just hired Richie Adubato to coach the Pistons after parting ways with Dick Vitale.  Vitale had a difficult 94-game stint with the Pistons, finishing 34-60.  Adubato would finish the season a dreadful 12-58, so Vitale picked an opportune time to resign.  Entering the ’79 draft, the Pistons were in an enviable position.  They held three high draft picks — the fourth, tenth, and fifteenth overall selections — but whiffed on all of them (though helped correct their mistakes through a 1981 trade for “Microwave” Vinnie Johnson, who received that nickname later in his career from Danny Ainge).

Vitale looking old even back in 1978

Just weeks later, on December 5, the same night the Pistons were waxed by the Kings in Kansas City, Vitale provided the color commentary for the Wisconsin-DePaul game on ESPN.  The Pistons wouldn’t finish with a winning record until 1983-84, when they churned out 49 wins with Chuck Daly at the helm.

M.L. Carr, along with another key off-season addition, was featured on the cover of the ’79-’80 Celtics media guide.  Detroit let Carr walk even after he lead the league in steals and was nominated to the NBA’s All-Defensive Second Team.  In return, the Pistons received Bob McAdoo as compensation from the Celtics.

The arrival of McAdoo back in Boston keys in on the second major event of the evening.  After a tumultuous stretch where Red feuded with Celtics owner John Y. Brown and threatened to leave for the New York Knicks, Auerbach remained a Celtic; John Y. Brown no longer owned the team (Bob Ryan detailed new owner Harry Mangurian’s significance in Boston Celtics history after his passing four years ago).  Peter May elaborates:

The Celtics were again bad in 1978-79. Fans awaited the (hoped-for) signing of Bird, who was dazzling everyone in his senior year. Auerbach also had carefully accumulated three No. 1 picks in the 1979 draft. Brown traded them all to New York for Bob McAdoo. Auerbach subsequently entered into negotiations to leave the team and take over the Knicks, but, in the end, decided to remain. Brown soon sold out to Mangurian and was gone as quickly as he came.

Dick Bavetta also returned to the Garden for the second time of the season.  After officiating Larry Bird’s first game, he witnessed another transcendent moment in league history as Bird recorded his first triple-double on this Wednesday in mid-November.  A non-sellout crowd of 12,128 witnessed the first of Bird’s 69 triple-doubles, as he finished with 23 points, 19 rebounds (nine of those on those offensive), and 10 assists.  Bird connected on another 3-pointer, and though he finished with a game-high 7 turnovers, the 22-year old from Terre Haute was asserted himself in the National Basketball Association.

The Celtics rolled through the first three quarters.  In full control with a lead of 23 points, the C’s fell asleep and were outscored by 19 in the fourth but held on to win, 115-111.  The win improved the Celtics to 11-3 as the Pistons dropped to 5-10.  McAdoo (now an assistant with the Heat) finished with the game-high with 28, and future Hall of Famer Bob Lanier added 23, but Cedric Maxwell had the better overall night with 20/15.  Tiny Archibald collected 7 assists (to only two turnovers) and Rick Robey chipped in 16 points off the bench.  The win, along with Philadelphia’s loss the night before in Kansas City, put the Celtics and 76ers in a first place tie in the Atlanta Division.

The Celtics returned home on Friday night against “Pistol” Pete Maravich and the Utah Jazz.

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.