Bird’s Rookie Year – Game 21 vs. the Knicks

Celtics (16-4) vs. Knicks (11-12)
Friday, November 30
Boston Garden

The Celtics entered the final game of the month filled with hope and optimism.  After enduring a 4-10 November in 1978-79 and a 6-7 record in ’77-’78, the C’s looked to end the month strongly.  One of their losses included a one-point set-back at the Spectrum in Philadelphia (where the Sixers were currently in the midst of extending their five-game winning streak over the Bill Walton-less San Diego Clippers, though Joe “Jellybean” Bryant — known nowadays as the father of Kobe Bryant — scored 14 points in the loss), but the other was a defeat at the hands of the New York Knicks at Madison Square Garden.  The Celtics allowed an outrageous 18 assists and 22 points to Mike Richardson, while also unable to defend Ray Williams, who dropped 35 points off 12-of-20 shooting back in NYC, but avenged the loss with a 100-97 victory on Causeway Street to polish off the month of November at a 10-2 clip.

Red Holzman’s Knicks were again a thorn in Boston’s side, refusing to relent.  The Celtics put up 63 points through the first 24 minutes, but the Knickerbockers only trailed by four at the half.  Just like the game on 11/17 in New York, struggles in the paint resurfaced.  Bill Cartwright pushed the Green around and had his way again, this time putting together a line of 27 points and 14 rebounds.  Cartwright must have been salivating at the prospect of meeting the Celtics again, as he combined for 47 and 35 in the first two minutes.  Selected third overall behind Earvin Johnson and David Greenwood in the previous draft, Cartwright was the most celebrated big man out of the University of San Francisco since… a Celtics legend who wore the #6.  The similarities between the two men on the court do not extend much further.

1978-1979 ALL AMERICA TEAM: Standing, left to right; Ronnie Perry, guard, Holy Cross; James Bailey, center, Rutgers; Larry Bird, forward, Indiana State; Bill Foster, Coach of the Year, Duke; Bill Cartwright, center, San Francisco; David Greenwood, forward, UCLA. Seated, left to right: Mike O’Koren, forward, North Carolina; Darrell Griffith, guard, Louisville; Sidney Moncrief, guard, Arkansas; Jim Spanarkel, guard, Duke; Earvin Johnson, forward, Michigan State

Larry Bird came back to earth for the C’s after some celestial performances.  Though he collected 9 boards, Bird finished with 8 points and struggled mightily from the field all night, shooting 4-for-18.  Cedric Maxwell only played 25 minutes and took just three shots with early foul trouble, also finishing with 8 points and 9 boards.  Maxwell was able to fight his way to the free throw line, shooting 4-of-6, but Bird did not attempt a free throw (alas, Dick Bavetta was not officiating this contest).  Tiny Archibald also dealt with a slow night, shooting 1-for-5 and collecting only 5 assists.  The Celtics stayed alive with a solid performance from Dave Cowens and another strong night from Chris Ford.  Cowens delivered 18 points and 11 boards, while Ford contributed 15 points (only one 3-pointer) and 4 assists.  For the first time in a long time, the bench provided the depth the Celtics needed to bail out the starters on a slow night.  Jeff Judkins and Rick Robey combined for 27 points, and Gerald Henderson added 5 assists in fifteen minutes.  The depth allowed the Celtics to win the battle of the boards, 46-34, and M.L. Carr again proved why he was such a critical off-season signing (despite Fitch’s complaints in the pre-season that Carr came to camp out of shape).  Carr finished with 17 points, but delivered 11 of them in the fourth.  He hit a 20-footer with just 27 seconds to play and sealed the game with two free throws with six seconds on the clock to lead the Celtics to victory.

Boston earned its fifth straight win, which was watched by a sellout crowd of 15,320 in the seventh sellout of the first eleven home games.  There would be no rest for this Celtics squad, who just began a three-games-in-three-different-cities road trip, followed by a game the following Tuesday, Wednesday, and then three more in a row to be played in three different cities the next weekend (one can only imagine how current Spurs coach Gregg Popovich would have handled that type of schedule).  The C’s looked to continue their winning ways the next night in Indiana.

 

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.