Bird’s Rookie Year — Game 35 vs. the 76ers

Celtics (27-7) vs. 76ers (24-10)
December 22, 1979
The Spectrum

The 76ers sought revenge three days before Christmas.  After the humiliation of a 25-point loss at the Boston Garden just three days prior, the city of Philadelphia couldn’t wait to spread its love to the visiting Celtics at the Spectrum for this 8pm prime time match-up.  Going into the game, the Sixers vowed they would be better prepared.  In the December 22, 1979 publication of the Boston Globe, Bob Ryan spoke with Julius Erving.

“I think,” says The Doc, “we realize that we played a poor game against them.  The worst thing would have been to play decent against them and then lose by 25 points.  We weren’t aggressive enough, and we didn’t get enough field goal attempts (81).”  Erving was impressed with the Boston fast break.  “Their transition was really effective,” he admitted.  “They get a lot done on the secondary break.”

The Doctah

The 76ers again only managed 81 field goal attempts in this game at the Spectrum, but Dr. J should have been focused on quality instead on quantity.  Unlike the previous affair in Boston, where Philly shot 35-of-81 for 43 percent, the Sixers took command early and found their way to the basket to shoot a much-improved 53-for-81, good enough for 65 percent from the field in a 126-113 win over the Celtics.  The C’s suffered from a poor first quarter but only trailed by four at the half, then fought back with a 38-point quarter to tie the game at 93 apiece after three.  Philadelphia went for the jugular in the final frame, outscoring the Celtics, 33-20, to put the game, the Celtics’ seven game winning streak, and Boston’s supposed domination of Philadelphia on-hold with a 13-point win.

Bob Ryan noted in his game recap that Philadelphia’s two key contributors as Julius Erving and Caldwell Jones.

One guy lights up the sky, inevitably attracting attention, and rightfully so.  A visitor from Kuala Lumpur viewing his first NBA game would immediately circle No. 6 on his program and say, “Indeed, this man is proficient at this game.”

The other guy schleps around in semi-obscurity.  He just goes about his business, which seldom includes shooting the ball, and though he does some things which cannot be ignored, much of his greatness is done while playing the role of Casper The Ghost.

But Julius Erving and Caldwell Jones had one thing in common last night.  Each man had performed his special feats as well as he can… Erving completed a masterful weekend’s work with a sparkling 37-point, 17-for-25, 7-assist effort which included some breath-taking swoops, spins, flips and Barishnykovian inventions – strangely, however, no dunks – to fill up a season’s highlight film.  “He was,” lauded Bill Fitch, “a great, great player tonight.”  Added Larry Bird in his typically modest fashion, “Doc used and abused me tonight.”

Just wasn’t so, Larry.  As in your previous visit here, you made Doc take very tough shots: fallaways, fadeaways and maybe even some “bad” shots.  The only trouble was that most of them went in the basket.  Jones, meanwhile, began his evening’s work by sending back the first – are you ready? – four Cedric Maxwell shots.

Caldwell Jones

The Celtics were again led by Bird’s 23 points, 12 rebounds, and 6 assists, but their effectiveness on the fast break was hampered due to Tiny Archibald’s sprained left ankle.  He suffered the injury in the previous night’s win over the Spurs, but he vowed to play and backed up his words with 21 points and 10 assists.  The Sixers also controlled the ball much more efficiently than in their prior contest against the C’s.  After allowing 30 turnovers — that led to 49 Celtics points — Philly cut the number down to 19 turnovers and forced the Celtics into 21 of their own.  Yet the C’s only trailed by four late in the fourth.

bird

The situation, Ryan wrote, was this: The Celtics were trailing, 109-105, when Bird was sprung on a one-on-one fast break with Philadelphia guard Maurice Cheeks, who is seven inches shorter.  “I was going to go down and post him up quick,” Bird explained, “when out of the corner of my eye I saw Caldwell coming in.  Now I wasn’t sure what to do, and I thought about dumping the ball off to Max.  That’s what I should have done, I guess.”  What Bird did was miss a hurried turnaround.  And what the 76ers did was exploit that break. 

With the loss, the Celtics remained two games atop the Atlantic Division as well as held the NBA’s best record.  Elsewhere around the league, Robert Parish had another big night and scored 25 points to lead the Warriors to victory over the Nets, 107-101, in Oakland, and former Celtic Paul Westphal tossed in 25 points in a win for Phoenix over the Kings.

The Chief

Also out in the West, the Nuggets defeated the Lakers, 130-128.  Denver’s George McInnis scored 15 of his game-high 33 points in the fourth quarter.  This was McInnis’ first game back after a 10-game suspension for allegedly knocking down referee Jess Kersey.

Here are the updated NBA standings for December 23, 1979:

 

ATLANTIC DIVISION

1.)        BOSTON — 27-8

2.)        PHILADELPHIA — 25-10

3.)        WASHINGTON — 14-16

4.)        NEW YORK — 15-20

5.)        NEW JERSEY — 13-22

 

CENTRAL DIVISION

1.)        ATLANTA — 23-15

2.)        SAN ANTONIO — 18-17

3.)        INDIANA — 16-19

4.)        CLEVELAND — 16-20

5.)        HOUSTON — 15-19

6.)        DETROIT — 9-26

 

MIDWEST DIVISION

1.)        MILWAUKEE — 21-14

2.)        KANSAS CITY — 21-18

3.)        DENVER — 13-23

4.)        CHICAGO — 12-23

5.)        UTAH — 9-25

 

PACIFIC DIVISION

1.)        SEATTLE — 24-10

2.)        LOS ANGELES — 24-12

3.)        PHOENIX — 23-13

4.)        PORTLAND — 19-17

5.)        SAN DIEGO — 18-19

6.)        GOLDEN STATE — 12-23

 

The Celtics continued their road trip after Christmas and returned to action on Thursday, December 27 in San Diego against the Clippers.

 

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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.