Bird’s Rookie Year — Game 25 vs. the Hawks

Celtics (19-5) vs. Hawks (16-12)
Wednesday, December 5, 1979
Boston Garden

The Celtics returned home and received a beat-down from Hubie Brown’s Hawks.  The 120-92 loss marked the sixth game in eight nights for the C’s, and Atlanta took advantage of the Celtics’ tired legs.  Boston was competitive for a quarter, only trailing, 25-24, after the first twelve minutes.  The Hawks’ onslaught started when Eddie Johnson and Tom McMillen teamed up for 24 points in the second quarter, and the C’s never recovered from a 21-point halftime deficit.  The Celtics had used the Garden as an extraordinary resource all season, and this was only their first home loss of the season.

Tree Rollins, who would become more acquainted with the Celtics fan base later in his career, dominated the paint with six blocked shots.  [This short clip from the ’86 Celtics-Hawks series covers so much: it touches on the Rollins-Ainge incident (which was unquestionably more physical than the recent Rajon Rondo-Kris Humphries shoving match), shows a young Glenn Rivers at the free throw line for the Hawks, sheds light on Red Auerbach’s desire to draft University of North Carolina center Brad Daugherty (a bluff to encourage Philadelphia, and later Cleveland, to pass on Lenny Bias), as well as features a memorable cameo by John Salley and a female companion).]

 

Hawks center Tree Rollins finished with two point but blocked seven shots

 

John Drew was held scoreless in the first half and then proceeded to drop 22 on the Celtics in the second half.  The 1983 Hubie Brown feature by Sports Illustrated’s Bruce Newman needs to be revisited here.  Brown and Drew, as well as Johnson, had a unique — if not always positive — relationship.

One of the most idiosyncratic Hawks was John Drew, the All-Star forward to whom Brown regularly referred—both in front of his teammates and to the press—as “cement head,” “moron” and “cinder head,” those being among the least harsh and more printable epithets he applied to Drew. In a painfully public way, Drew had become the ultimate whipping boy. Brown never flinched from his role of bully. For his part, Drew refused to say an unkind word about the coach. But by that time, Drew, by his own subsequent admission, was a heavy user of cocaine. The season the Hawks won 50 games, 1979-80, Brown rode Drew mercilessly, a tactic that further alienated him from many of his players. “In terms of depression,” says Gearon, “that year was the worst. That was brutal.”

In addition to Drew, Brown blamed Guard Eddie Johnson, who would later admit that he had used cocaine, and yet a third player, whom Brown accused of being both a cocaine user and a homosexual, whenever anything went wrong. Gearon disputes the notion that for his last two years in Atlanta Brown was some kind of lone ranger crusading against cocaine, and yet he rather blithely dismisses the impact of Drew’s erratic behavior. “John Drew didn’t give us any problems after Hubie left,” Gearon says. “He may have been a drug user, but it never caused him to be late or to miss practice. John Drew is a very stable person.”

Following the Hawks’ 4-1 loss to Philadelphia in the Eastern Conference semifinals in 1980, Brown says he spent $1,200 seeing a psychologist who “took my personality and put it into the drug scene.” He says the sessions helped him cope with the problem of drug abuse. “So why,” he wonders, “did I flip out the next year? I have no answer for that.”

Cedric Maxwell and Larry Bird finished with 18 points apiece, Dave Cowens added 14 points, and Tiny Archibald (14-14 from the free throw line) led the way with 20 points.  The Celtics were not nearly as successful when Archibald, who only collected three assists, was their leading scorer.

The Celtics, now 11-1 at the Garden, remained home to play the Phoenix Suns on Friday to begin their next stretch of three games in three days.

 

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.