Bird’s Rookie Year — Game 32 vs. the Nets

Celtics (24-7) vs. Nets (12-19)
December 16, 1979
Rutgers Athletic Center

A night after the Celtics stole a game in Madison Square Garden on Walt Frazier Night, the Boston Globe’s Bob Ryan continued to be amazed with this Celtics team.  In the Sunday edition of the Globe on December 16, 1979, courtesy of the Boston Globe Archive access, here is how he began his recap of the C’s victory in MSG:

The Designated Saviour scored 31 points and hauled in 13 rebounds.  The Captain again gave a demonstration of how to shoot 3 for 19 while playing otherwise fabulous basketball.  The Playmaker submitted a valuable 19 points and 7 assists.  And – get this – The Bench shot a collective 11 for 12.  And, oh, yes, two steals in the final 23 seconds provided the star-struck Celtics with a 99-96 triumph over the amazingly self-destructive New York Knicks last night before a sellout crowd in Madison Square Garden.  It was, in other words, just another routine evening in the life of the NBA’s most lovable team.

Riding high after the win, the Celtics arrived in Piscataway looking to extend their winning streak to five games.  The lead seesawed back and forth, and the C’s needed a controversial call from Jack Madden to force an overtime period to put the Nets away with a 115-112 victory.  The Monday game story in the Globe by Ryan bestowed a more detailed account:

The victory was Boston’s third straight three-point victory in three nights, the last two on the road and the final a bizarre struggle which saw the Celtics lead by 10 points with 6:51 left in regulation, trail by five (115-110) with 1:58 remaining in overtime and succeed in forcing an overtime only when M.L. Carr capped a bizarre final 23 seconds of the fourth quarter with a pair of free throws with two seconds left.

How Carr wound up there was a matter of debate, but this is a brief summation: Trailing, 104-102, after two [Mike] Newlin foul shots with 23 seconds left (the result of a typically chintzy call by Tom Nunez), Boston appeared to be en route to defeat when a Dave Cowens jumper bounced off the rim and out of bounds with seven seconds left.

But on the New Jersey inbounds pass from midcourt, Newlin became separated from the ball (choked said the Nets; cleverly scripted, said the Celtics).  Boston regained possession and a streaking Carr was fouled while barely in possession of the ball in the lane and was awarded two shots.  “I’d like to be shooting those fouls with two good wrists,” said Carr, “but this was tough.”

He missed the first one, but swished the next two and the teams were in OT.

With the win, the Celtics improved to 3-1 in OT and received meaningful contributions from all nine players who checked into the game.  Led by Larry Bird’s 19 points and 16 boards, Boston fought their way through a valiant effort from New Jersey in a game lasting over two and a half hours (a marathon at the time in the National Basketball Association).

Nets guard Mike Newlin

Nets guard Mike Newlin

The Nets received a monstrous night from Mike Newlin.  The 8-year veteran was acquired by New Jersey a few months earlier in October from the Rockets,and he would eventually be moved to the Knicks for the current head coach, Mike Woodson.  Newlin provided instant offense all night by giving the Nets a franchise-record 52 points, a record he shared with Micheal Ray Richardson until Deron Williams broke the Nets’ record  in the Nets’ final season in New Jersey.  Eighteen of his nineteen field goals were two-point field goals, and only a combined 16 points were from the free throw and three-point line on a night when he shot a mesmerizing 68 percent.  In a 1981 article by Sports Illustrated, Douglas Looney painted the picture of a man you do not see too often in today’s NBA:

Newlin has a rep as a “flake lost in space,” according to one general manager. But that’s partly because he has an all-star mind, which makes him a rare bird in the NBA. It also helps make him eloquent when it comes to talking about what it means to be a pro and the true significance of winning and losing.

“Winning a game is ephemeral,” he has said. “To just try to win is blasphemous. You have to do it right. I don’t want anything to do with the bastardization of the purity of the game. The pleasure I get is playing. Until the final buzzer, I haven’t lost. I’m a winner for 47 minutes and 50 seconds. So what does the winner get that I don’t? Ten more seconds of pleasure, that’s all. The mere fact I tried is a win. But the main point is, it’s just such a pleasure to be a professional athlete. The problem with many athletes is they take themselves seriously and their sport lightly.”

Newlin, 32, is, in fact, one of the last of the old-fashioned players. Not nearly as good as, say, John Havlicek, but like him. Newlin loves to make personal appearances to help the team, assist old ladies into their chairs and stand at attention during the national anthem. Though he’s finishing off-his 10th year as a pro, when he’s in the game, he’s forever diving onto the floor. “People praise my hustle, but it’s not even worthy of praise,” Newlin says. “It’s just basketball. Every possession is worth eight-tenths of a point. It’s that simple.”

He pushes, shoves, harasses. He’s relentless. And he shoots an exquisitely precise jumper with one of the fastest releases in the NBA. “I love it that at one end of the court you have the finesse of a jumper and then you run 94 feet and you have the brutality of football,” Newlin says.

Newlin is totally dedicated to the game. “Guys get to be pros,” he says, “and they think they don’t have to practice hard anymore. That’s a big mistake.” With that, he looks into his omnipresent notebook for a quote he has copied: “Genius is perseverance in disguise.” He offers it without comment, but there’s no doubt that’s how he views himself.

The 7,716 fans in attendance also watched as Dave Cowens flirted with a triple-double.  Cowens ended the night just shy of the accomplishment, but was a big piece of the victory with 16 points, 8 assists (giving him 15 for the past two games), and 5 rebounds.  Nate Archibald returned to his smooth, nearly turnover free play at the point,scoring 17 points and added 6 assists.  Cedric Maxwell added 15 and 12, while Chris Ford hit three more 3-pointers — including one that provided a 112-109 lead which the C’s would not relinquish — and added 15 points off 6-of-8 shooting.  The play off the bench was particularly solid, as M.L. Carr, Rick Robey, Don Chaney, and Gerald Henderson combined for 33 points.  The strong work from the reserves allowed most of the starters to rest throughout the game; lacking a true backup at center, Cowens was forced to play the most for the Celtics at 43 minutes.  Ryan touched on the work of the bench in his Globe game story:

On a third-game-in-three-nights situation, Fitch needed help from some auxiliary personnel, and at one time or another he got a plus performance from Don Chaney, Gerald Henderson, Rick Robey and, of course, Carr, the gutsiest one-wristed player in the NBA.  Neither stat sheet examinations nor memory-wracking can explain how they won this game, especially on the road.

The Celtics returned home on Wednesday in a highly anticipated rematch with the Philadelphia 76ers.

 

12_16_79

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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