Celtics (30-10) vs. Knicks (22-22)
January 9, 1980
The Celtics returned home to the Garden after a grueling two week road trip to face New York. Winners of five of their last six, the Knicks strode into Boston in search of their second win of the season against the Atlantic Division-leading Celtics. After issues in the visiting team parking lot in San Antonio (the more things change, the more they stay the same…), the big worry for the C’s was the injured Larry Bird, who entered the game with a sprained ankle but left with an injury to his right hand. The Knicks cut a 16-point halftime deficit down to one in the third quarter, but the Celtics recovered to put away Red Holzman’s Knickerbockers, 112-95.
Up until the New Year, the Celtics were one of the healthiest teams in the NBA. The only injury of significance was M.L. Carr hurting his wrist, and though his productivity and shot were affected, he was able to play through the injury. Losing Bird, however, would be a monumental blow to a team with championship aspirations. Bob Ryan discussed the injury in the following day’s Globe:
Bird somehow managed to jam the knuckle at the base of his right index finger during the second-half warmups, and it rendered him quite ineffective (by his standards, since “ineffective” is hardly a synonym for “useless”) during the second half. Bird was taken to University Hospital for X-rays, which means that Bill Fitch, Red Auerbach and the rest of the Celtic family can stage a breath-holding contest.
“I don’t think I’ll sleep much tonight,” said Fitch. “I’ll want to know what those pictures show. I might be looking through the want ads by 2 a.m.” However, team physician Dr. Thomas Silva, though concerned, was not alarmed. “I really don’t think it’s that serious,” he said. Surely, there are hundreds of thousands in New England (and elsewhere) who hope he’s right.
Bill Cartwright had another monster night against the C’s, delivering 22 points and 11 rebounds. As Ryan noted, Cartwright had been living up to his reputation as a shooter, hitting 50 percent from the floor in five of his last 30 games. Even more amazing is his foul shooting. Entering last night, he had shot 54 for 58 (.931) from the line in his last eight games. His season’s free-throw percentage was .824 (280-for-340), which means he almost surely will break a record last season’s Jazz publicity people hyped quite a bit. They proudly proclaimed that Rich Kelley’s mark of .814 (375-458) was the highest mark ever by a man 7 feet or taller. He finished 4-for 5 from the line against the Celtics.
Cartwright’s counterpart, Dave Cowens, finished with 14 points and 12 boards (seven of which were off the offensive glass), but his problems from the field continued as he shot just 6-for-19. Even with Cowens’ shooting woes, he continued to provide the inside presence the Celtics desperately needed on both sides of the floor.
Chris Ford, who hit another three-pointer, and Gerald Henderson both added a dozen for the C’s. Ford had made at least one three in his last nine games, giving him one in 21 of the past 22 games since November 24 in Atlanta. Bird had also made 12 of his last 20 three-point attempts, placing himself in fourth place with a .392 percentage (20-for- 51).
Limited to 27 minutes, Bird still managed 8 points, 8 boards, and 4 assists. Cedric Maxwell dealt with foul trouble and also only contributed 8 points, so the bulk of the offense came from Tiny Archibald (20 points, 7 assists) and 18 points (with 7 boards) off the bench from Carr.
In the Globe, Carr showed and he understood the significance of playing and, more importantly, beating New York:
“I don’t care if they come in here with five guys,” said M.L. Carr. “You know they are going to be sky high. This is a big game. It’s not like San Antonio or Cleveland. I mean, tomorrow, you can go into any bar in New York and Boston and they will be talking about this game.
“I can think of three reasons why I want to beat them. First, because it is New York and they are a team with talent. Second, because I’m playing for Boston and I almost signed with the Knicks. Third, because this is a game within the division. And you want to win all the games you play in the division,” said Carr.
“We have talent. They have talent. They can blow you out if you’re not careful, and we weren’t in the third quarter. But we regrouped and pulled away in the fourth quarter (thanks to a 28-7 run).
Looking ahead, Larry Whiteside in the Globe reported the Celtics announced that Sunday’s game with Los Angeles is a virtual sellout and would be televised locally by Ch. 38. Only about 300 seats, all obstructed view, were left as of yesterday afternoon. Ch. 38 will televise the game, which will be carried nationally over the CBS network because Ch. 7 has scheduled a telethon in that time period. Times dictate a certain flexibility in scheduling. Even though the Celtics are playing the defending NBA champion Seattle Supersonics on Jan. 20, the game will start at noon to avoid conflict with the Super Bowl (Terry Bradshaw’s Steelers vs. Jack Youingblood’s Rams) that Sunday.
Before the arrival of the Lakers, however, was a rematch with the Hawks. Atlanta, who crushed the Celtics to the tune of 120-92 for the C’s only home blemish of the season, was set to play at the Garden on Friday night.