Celtics (20-6) vs. Cavaliers (13-17)
December 8, 1979
The Cavaliers were thrilled to find the Celtics on the second night of a back-to-back and shared no sympathy toward former coach Bill Fitch in a 116-100 victory over Boston. The win put the Cavs only three games under the .500 mark.
An exquisite performance from Larry Bird went to waste. Bird set a new high by compiling 32 points, 18 rebounds, and five assists. Cedric Maxwell added 11 boards and 18 points off 50 percent shooting, and Tiny Archibald was stellar at the point with 16 points and 9 assists. M.L. Carr gave the Celts a little punch off the bench with 10 points, but Dave Cowens endured his worst performance of the season. Playing 39 minutes, he shot 1-of-9 from the field to give the Celtics only two points. With no true backup center on the roster, Cowens’ three rebounds and poor play left the Green Team in a very weak spot in the middle. The season had been mostly positive for the former 1971 co-rookie of the year, but nights like this must have had Red Auerbach and Bill Fitch thinking of ways to improve their strength and depth at center.
Turnovers contributed to the Celtics’ offensive woes. They gave the ball away 25 times, including 7 from just Max, and the Cavs made them pay. Cleveland attacked with Campy Russell, who torched the Celtics inside for 27 points, as well as some extra firepower from Randy Smith (23 points) and Mike Mitchell (20 points).
The C’s were able to have more rebounds and assists than the Cavs, but the combination of the turnovers and lack of ability to stop Smith and Mitchell in the paint turned out to be the fatal flaw. After the game, there was no time for rest or a chance to lament a lost opportunity after leading by 10 after one quarter of play. The Celtics were on their way to Milwaukee to play a very talented Bucks squad. The Celtics loss, along with a 117-96 win by Philadelphia over Phoenix, allowed the 76ers — who were rolling with eight consecutive wins — to recapture sole possession of first place of the Atlantic Division.