Bird’s Rookie Year — Game 29 vs. the Nets

Celtics (21-7) vs. Nets (11-17)
December 12, 1979
Boston Garden

A fully-rested Celtics team built off the win in Milwaukee and improved to 13-1 at the Garden with a 116-102 win over the New Jersey Nets.  After splitting six games, the Celtics won their second in a row and looked to poised to kick off another lengthy winning streak.  This game already marked the third time Boston faced New Jersey, and the Celtics were feasting on the inferior competition.  For two vastly different teams in terms of talent level, it is mind-boggling to think that New Jersey had eight more wins than the Celtics the previous season.  That, of course, was life before Larry Bird, who acted as a one man gang against the Nets, torching the troubled franchise for 21 points, 11 assists, and 5 rebounds.

 

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Before becoming a mildly successful coach in the Continental Basketball League (bringing the Alany Patroons their first title) and Puerto Rico’s National Superior Basketball, Phil Jackson rode the pine for the Nets.  He only played in 16 games before retiring in 1980, and the once-important piece to the Knickerbockers’ two championships was now a shell of himself.  Jackson was connected to Celtics coach Bill Fitch.  In another phenomenal article, Sports Illustrated’s Jack McCallum explains:

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An ambitious young basketball coach named Bill Fitch first visited with Jackson on a bitter spring afternoon in Williston, where, in Fitch’s car with the heater running, the coach persuaded Jackson to come to the University of North Dakota. Williston’s cold, windy weather—”You can fly a kite there forever,” says Fitch—made the people tough and competitive, and the loose-limbed Holy Roller was as tough and competitive as anyone. Jackson’s fastball drew the attention of baseball recruiters, but Fitch wanted him only for basketball. “It was the right choice,” said Fitch, who went on to coach in the NBA with Cleveland, Boston, Houston and, now, New Jersey. “He couldn’t find home plate with a Geiger counter.”

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The Evolution of Phil Jackson does a wonderful job recapping Jackson’s many looks.

Unlike Jackson, who couldn’t stay on the court, Dave Cowens still had a place on the court.  Cowens paced the Celtics with 24 points and 10 boards, again showing how dangerous the Celts could be with strong play in the post.  Cedric Maxwell added 7 boards and 13 points off a tidy 6-for-8 from the field, Chris Ford drilled three more 3-pointers in an 18-point night, and Tiny Archibald kept humming with seven more assists.  Sixth man Gerald Henderson, playing only 13 minutes, dropped in 12 points.  The game did not sell out.

Although they allowed over 100 points, the Celtics played lock-down defense, forcing the Nets to shoot under 40 percent from the field.  New Jersey’s Cliff Robinson (not the headband-wearing Clifford Robinson, who played 18 seasons in the NBA and made the playoffs all 18 years, who didn’t enter the league until 1989) was the only Net to reach 20 points.  The Celts won the rebound and assist battle (though both teams scored 18 points off turnovers), and high scoring first and third quarters put NJ in a whole from which they could not recover.

Philadelphia defeated Milwaukee to improve to 22-7, the same record as the C’s.  The two teams were set to square off at the Garden on Wednesday, December 19.  In the meantime, the Celtics returned to action for a rematch (and the start of another three consecutive games) with the Bucks at home on Friday night.

 

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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.

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