Bird’s Rookie Year — Game 44 vs. the Bulls

Celtics (32-11) vs. Bulls (15-29)
January 16, 1980
Boston Garden

Hosting Chicago for the first time in the season, the Celtics recovered from a harrowing loss to the Lakers by defeating the Bulls, 114-104, to improve to 3-1 in their seven-game home stand.  The Bulls were coming off a 21-point victory over the Kings the night before, and ran out of steam in the second quarter when coach Jerry Sloan received two technical fouls (in the “some things never change” department, a young Joey Crawford officiated the game) and was ejected as the Celtics claimed a 13-point lead at the half and never looked back.

 

Coach Jerry Sloan

Coach Jerry Sloan

 

The Boston Globe’s Bob Ryan, in his game recap, was not impressed with the basketball played on the famed parquet the prior evening.

If you’re a big fan of test patterns, commercials at the movies, intentional walks, goalies freezing the puck, Al Martino singing “The Best of Lou Monte” and political speeches by any member of the Socialist Workers Party, then this was just the game for you.  This was the night you should have given away your tickets to the guy who just took your girl. Because unless you get turned on by the sight of free throws, the Garden was no place for a basketball fan to be last night.

What 13,032 fans got for their money was the illegitimate offspring of a basketball game, a boring, sputtering, gory mess of a game in which referees Joe Crawford and Hubert Evans whistled 70 personal fouls that led to 91 free throws, completely eliminating the chance for this game to develop any rhythm at all.

The Bulls were young but laden with talent in rookie David Greenwood and second-year pro Reggie Theus.  Per Sports Illustrated’s Jack McCallum:

During 13 seasons as a big guard with six NBA teams, he demonstrated a Vegas-style flash and dash on and off the court: trash-talking and fancy-passing, fur-wearing and club-hopping.  Theus, who, along with Bulls teammates Sam Smith and Ricky Sobers, was a product of UNLV, remarked during the 1979 season to SI that “if we get one more player from Nevada-Las Vegas, the NBA will put us on probation.”

Theus eventually credited Coach Sloan for a permanent affect on his work ethic and perspective on the game of basketball, and the future NBA commentator, coach, and actor enjoyed success at the Garden with 26 points.

Reggie Theus - Chicago Bulls

Regardless of Theus’ good night, the Celtics’ starting five dominated the Bulls.  Larry Bird and Cedric Maxwell each contributed 18 points and 7 boards (Maxwell had 19 attempts at the free throw line).  The Globe’s Larry Whiteside spoke with Archibald after the game about his night at the line and the state of his team:

“I’m tired,” said Archibald. “I had worked on my fouls shooting yesterday in practice. I thought that I might be going to the line some, but not this much. I knew I wasn’t shooting a good percentage from the field. So I was concentrating more on the line because I think if I had done it last Sunday, we might not have been in shape we were in when we lost to Los Angeles.”

Archibald, the floor leader, was the logical person to try to explain Boston’s poor play. It is no secret that the Celtics of January are not as dazzling as the Celtics of November and December. Their fast break is slower now and less effective because their opponents are getting back on defense, and clubs such as Los Angeles and Chicago, which have giant centers, are not allowing Boston to dominate the boards.

To win without an effective running game, the Celtics must run a set offense – either scoring down low with Dave Cowens or Cedric Maxwell or getting outside shooting from Chris Ford, Archibald and Larry Bird. Balanced scoring, which they have been getting, is their aim. However, their play is not resembling the way coach Bill Fitch diagrammed it.

“I think it is obvious the way things are going that we are not executing,” said Archibald. “We’ve hit the dull part of the schedule. We’re stagnant. We’re doing too much standing around. It’s not that we’re in a slump. But right now, it’s like we’re all waiting for the next guy to do it instead of doing it ourselves.

“We have to do a better job of executing on our set offense when our fast break isn’t going. You can see them doing a better job of cutting off our inlet passes from guard to forward, now. There won’t be any easy passes anymore. We’ve got to execute and that isn’t always easy because the whole team is tired.

“It’s not a matter of confidence. We got a good team and we’re winning. But we’re not playing as well as we’re capable of playing lately. It’s a good thing that we’re at home, or we’d really be in trouble,” added Archibald. If we’d play this badly on the road, we’d be losing. Fortunately, we’ve got kind of team that works on its problems. You can be we’ll be working on execution in the next two practices.”

Dave Cowens added 21 points and 6 rebounds, and Tiny Archibald shook off a poor 1-9 shooting night to lead the Celtics with 22 points (Archibald was 20-22 — yes, 20-22 – from the free throw line.  As a reminder, Joey Crawford officiated the game).  As a team, the Celtics attempted 56 free throws and the two teams combined for 91 attempts.  In addition to putting the Celts at the line, Chicago turned the ball over 26 times, doubling Boston’s total.  Chris Ford did not hit a three-pointer, finishing 0-2 from three-point land.

Ryan’s game story shed more light on the disjointed action:

Chicago coach Jerry Sloan’s post-game comments were laced with “I guesses” and other such words of wisdom, since he didn’t see much of the game. Referee Crawford ejected Sloan with 6:34 left in the second period after a sequence in which the Bulls got no call on an M.L. Carr block which wound up with John Mengelt rolling on the floor. The resultant two technicals were half of the Chicago total, and in each case the bonus free throw gave the Celtics a three- point play. The Celtics had moved into an early 21-10 lead as the Bulls were going after national, hemispheric and intergalactic records in turnovers. Chicago turned the ball over on three of its first four possessions en route to an 11-turnover opening quarter. But so shoddy were the Celtics that the one quarter Boston lead was a mere five at 26-21.

The Bulls caught the Celtics at 30-30, but a 16-3 run later in the quarter sent the Celtics into the locker room leading by 13 (55- 42), and they would nurse that advantage through the third quarter.

Say this for the Bulls: they did not quit. And when Boston began that where-do-I-go-now? offense, the aggressive Bulls launched a rush, until a turnover-induced fast-break layup by Reggie Theus pulled them into that 100-100 state of affairs.

“I kept thinking,” said Carr, “that we shouldn’t have been here, and that they really had the momentum.”

Ah, but here the Celtics took advantage of a break, as Dave Cowens (21 points) slipped in a follow-up of his own miss when the Bulls froze upon hearing the 24-second buzzer. And at 102-100 they caught another break when goaltending was not called on Cowens, who knocked away a Ricky Sobers jumper which was hanging on the rim.

The clinchers came later. At 105-102, Artis Gilmore traveled, and Larry Bird dropped in a 20-footer at the other end. And when Cowens made a sensational defensive play by knocking away a pass intended inside for Gilmore, Carr sent the fans to the aisles with a three- point bomb that made it, 110-102, with 39 seconds left.

That late flurry notwithstanding, this game had been an artistic disaster. Only the “W” saved it from being a complete one.

In other Celtics’ news, Dave Cowens was fined $2500 for his altercation with Hawks’ center Tree Rollins (Rollins was fined $1500).  Bob Ryan detailed the Celtics’, namely Red Auerbach’s issue, with the imbalanced fines:

Dave Cowens and Wayne (Tree) Rollins have each been fined by Comr. Larry O’Brien for their fight last Friday night in the Garden. The only interesting aspect was that Cowens was fined $2500 and Rollins was fined $1500.  The press release accompanying the announcement read as follows: “A thorough review of the videotape and interviews conducted by the NBA revealed that Cowens was clearly the aggressor and threw the first punch.”

So far, so good. But read on. “However,” the release continued, “Rollins precipitated the fight by throwing an elbow which went undetected by game officials.”

You may note in there a $1000 “however.” The Celtics weren’t exactly thrilled over the imbalance in fines. Cowens wouldn’t say anything, while Bill Fitch’s only statement was, “I have no remarks for the record,” which he said is “different than saying No comment.’ ” Everyone is relieved there were no suspensions imposed on either player.

Another source of frustration for the Celtics was the commentary from Sunday’s national television broadcast vs. the Lakers; Ryan provided more information, as well as a few other Celtics notes:

Larry Bird has definitely been hampered by his sprained right ankle and bruised knuckle on his right (or shooting) hand, and Bill Fitch is upset that CBS played up Magic Johnson’s groin injury on Sunday while never once mentioning that Bird was limited by his ailments. He has only attempted 13.9 shots per game in his last nine games . . .

Both Boston and Philadelphia have two games remaining between now and next Sunday night, when the coaches of the league’s All-Stars will be decided by which teams have the best records in the respective conferences. Entering last night’s action, the teams were tied at 32-11. The Sixers played Portland in the Spectrum last night and have games remaining at New Jersey tomorrow and at home with Cleveland on Saturday night. The Celtics have home games with Portland and Seattle on tomorrow and Sunday, respectively . . .

The Celtics continue to lead the league in three-point-field-goal percentage, having sunk 80 of 207 attempts for a .386 percentage. Chris Ford’s latest streak had reached 12 consecutive games, and 24 of 25, in which he had made at least one three-point basket. Nobody else in the league comes even close to that, including the prolific Brian Taylor of San Diego.

The Celtics continued their home stand on Friday night against the Portland TrailBlazers.

 

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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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